While many Central Texans worried about Ebola, Zika and other potentially infectious viruses this winter, the usual culprit has failed to make headlines: flu.
But that could change over the next month or so. A top infectious disease expert at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas warns that, though spring seems to have arrived early, it’s still a good idea to get a flu shot if you haven’t gotten one already.
“That’s very important, very important,” said Dr. Sarmistha Hauger, Dell Children’s medical director for infection control and prevention. “Flu season had a late start, near the end of January, and will extend for three months (to the end of April). It doesn’t hurt to augment your protection, especially if you plan to travel elsewhere.”
She noted that, with few exceptions, flu shots are recommended for everyone age six months or older.
Hauger said influenza cases are few and far between at Dell Children’s so far. One reason likely is “herd immunity,” which occurs when a large portion of a community is vaccinated against a contagious disease and, in effect, protects many of the unvaccinated.
Another likely reason is this year’s influenza vaccine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last week that new data show it to be 59 percent effective overall against the prevalent flu viruses.
That makes it the most effective vaccine since the U.S. government began evaluating them in 2003. Last year’s vaccine was 23 percent effective.
Nationally, flu activity is currently on the upswing, starting a bit later than normal. But so far, the number of flu cases is lower than the three previous flu seasons, CDC figures show. Flu season commonly peaks in February in the northern hemisphere.
Flu can be a killer, especially among children. The latest CDC data shows 14 child patient deaths are linked to the flu between Oct. 4, 2015, and Feb. 20 of this year.
In comparison, previous flu seasons saw 148 child deaths (2014-15), 111 deaths (2013-14) and 171 deaths (2012-13), according to the CDC.