If this year plays out like most, next month should start to see the peak of the annual flu season. However, recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that this year’s flu vaccine is missing about half of the key strains that are currently circulating. Specifically, the CDC found that 52 percent of the influenza A viruses (H3N2) that were collected between October 1 and November 22 had “drifted” from the H3N2 vaccine virus. We asked Dr. Steven Pergam, the Director for Infection Prevention at SCCA, about this year’s vaccine and what everyone—especially cancer patients and their families—should do to protect themselves.
According to Dr. Pergam, you should still get your flu shot. While it may not protect you from all of this year’s flu strains, it’s still effective against half the strains in circulation. If you have symptoms—a cough, fever, sore throat, or muscle aches—see your doctor about getting tested for influenza. Getting treated early can help prevent complications down the road. Also try to avoid crowded places and if you have friends who want to visit but who are symptomatic, ask them come at a later time after their symptoms go away. Finally, make sure to wash your hands frequently and carry hand sanitizer.
See the CDC website for more information about the flu. Google FluTrends gives a graphical sense of the flu’s pervasiveness, both locally and around the country. And if you’re interested in how well the current flu vaccine matches up against circulating strains versus vaccines in previous flu seasons, checkout Beth Skwarecki’s post over at plos.org.