Fall and winter usher in holiday travel and gatherings that create an opportunity for flu and other viruses to spread. But, according to state officials, there’s still time to get vaccinated to help avoid getting the flu while spending time with loved ones and friends this holiday season.
Flu activity is increasing in Washington state and is expected to continue to increase in the coming weeks.
Flu season typically peaks in the winter months when people spend more time indoors. So far this season, H3N2 flu viruses have been the most common type of flu circulating around the country. More than half of those viruses have changed slightly from the strain that’s included in this year’s flu vaccine.
Seasons when H3N2 viruses are most common tend to be more severe with higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. State health officials say the flu vaccine still offers protection against the well-matched strains and may provide some protection against the drifted strain.
“We are still recommending that everyone six months and older get vaccinated this season,” said State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy.
“Even if the vaccine may only provide partial protection against one flu virus, it can protect you against the other types,” she said.
Everyone six months and older should get vaccinated, she said. Lofy said it’s especially important for people at higher risk for flu-related complications. People at higher risk include young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older, and people with certain chronic medical conditions.
It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to fully protect against flu. Some children under nine may need two doses of flu vaccine, according to Lofy.
People at high-risk who get the flu may develop serious complications, such as pneumonia. The flu can make existing health conditions worse. This can lead to hospitalization and death.
Anyone at increased risk for complications and who has flu symptoms, said Lofy, is urged to contact a doctor or clinic immediately. She said antiviral medications help, but they must be prescribed by a doctor and are most effective when started within 48 hours of illness onset.
There are many vaccine choices this season, offered in multiple locations, including health care provider offices, pharmacies and even through some employers. People can find a clinic by calling the family health hotline at 1-800-322-2588.
The state health department buys all recommended childhood vaccines, including flu vaccine, for kids through age 18. Although the vaccine is provided at no cost, health care providers may charge for the office visit or include a fee to give the vaccine. The health care provider may waive the fee if asked.