Flu season is rapidly approaching. Will you be prepared? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization has updated information for flu season 2014-15. As stated in previous years, the single most important step you can take to prepare for flu season is to get vaccinated.
What was learned from last year?
Flu season 2013-14 was well covered by the trivalent (three flu virus strains) and Quadrivalent (four flu virus strains) vaccines available for immunization. The vaccine strains matched what was identified in the infected U.S. population. H1N1 was the predominant flu virus last year accounting for almost 90% of the infections. Scientists have developed flu vaccines for this year which will contain the same flu virus particles from last year’s preparations.
Flu syndromes peaked in December last year, as in the previous. But if you look at the last several years flu season has more often peaked in January or February. Those who delayed getting their flu shot until December or later, over the last two years, may have paid a big price.
Data from last year’s flu season showed lower rates of flu vaccinations in healthy people age 18 to 64. Interestingly young adults were hit particularly hard with severe flu syndromes compared to previous years. Millions of people who got their flu shot were protected against severe and fatal flu syndromes last year, yet over a hundred children in the U.S. died from fatal attacks.
Although more pregnant women received flu shots last year compared to the previous year, almost half remained unvaccinated. The most common reasons for refusing flu shots, in pregnancy, were concerns about safety of the newborn and getting sick from the vaccine.
People in long term care facilities were at higher risk last year based on lower rates of flu vaccination of staff. The elderly as well as young children remain at high risk for severe, life threatening influenza.** What are the new recommendations for this year?**
There are three areas of focus for flu season 2014-15.
First, the CDC recommends all people six months of age or older get flu vaccination unless there are particular contraindications. Flu vaccination should not be delayed by waiting for a particular type of vaccine if another is already available.
Second, health experts recommend intranasal flu vaccine, Live Attenuated Influenza Virus (LAV) over the injectable Inactivated (or killed) Influenza Vaccine (IIV) for healthy children age 2-8 years of age. The LAV vaccine appears to be a little better at stimulating immunity against the flu. But it is emphasized that parents should not delay in getting their children vaccinated in attempt to wait for LAV to arrive if IIV (the killed form of flu vaccine) is available**. It is better to have timely flu vaccination with whatever appropriate flu vaccine is available.**
Furthermore some children may not be candidates for the LAV if they have asthma, wheezing in the last twelve months, other chronic medical illnesses, immunosuppression, or are taking aspirin. In fact, if they are around or live with other immunosuppressed people they should not get LAV.
Finally, flu vaccine should be offered to egg allergic people over six months of age with special precautions. Those 18 years or older who only experienced hives or skin rash may receive a recombinant form of flu vaccine which contains no egg protein. Children younger than 18 may receive IIV by appropriately trained or experienced health care providers and wait under observation for 30 minutes after the shot.
Don’t delay getting your flu vaccination. The risks associated with flu syndrome are greater than risks associated with getting the flu vaccine. Preservative free flu vaccines are also available for those who are allergic to the thimerosal preservative.
Are You Ready for Flu? CDC’s Recommendations and Communication Plans for the 2014-2015 Influenza Season- Webinar 2014
Board Certified Allergist and Asthma Specialist