Flu season has arrived remarkably early and because it promises to be the worst in years, UCI Health experts are urging people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Just like Australia, flu season has arrived early in the United States, and it’s likely to indicate a severe season," says Dr. Susan Huang, UCI Health medical director of epidemiology and infection prevention.
“Since the flu is already in circulation and it takes at least two weeks for the vaccine to reach full potency, I recommend getting the shot immediately,” she added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has tracked a rise in U.S. cases, especially in the southeastern and south-central regions. Closer to home, San Diego County health officials reported a spike in early October.
The Orange County Health Care Agency, which also is seeing an increase in confirmed influenza infections, noted in an alert to healthcare providers that Australia’s recently concluded flu season was the most severe in five years.
Reduce your risk
Getting the flu shot will prevent or mitigate all infections. Studies show that influenza vaccinations reduce the need for a flu-related doctor visit by up to 60%, according to the CDC.
Because the recent flu season in Australia heavily impacted young children and is expected to also seriously affect adults with health issues, everyone ages six months or older should get a flu shot, Huang advises. “It’s a very safe and proven vaccine and it should be your first step to protect you and your family from serious illness."
Flu shots are especially important for older people, who are at greater risk of developing severe complications. If you are age 65 or older, be sure to get a vaccine designed to offer more protection.
Also at higher risk are people who have underlying health conditions or those whose work requires them to be in contact with a lot of people, especially in situations where ventilation is poor.
Huang says it’s safe to get a flu vaccine at the same time as the updated COVID-19 booster, which offers protection against new variants now circulating.
Resist vaccine fatigue
The last two flu seasons were mild because most people were masking and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Now that masks are off and life is largely back to normal, health experts worry that vaccine fatigue has set in.
“Many people are tired of hearing about COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots,” says Huang. “But this winter’s COVID, flu and respiratory virus season should not be ignored. Vaccines are the best prevention.”
Free flu shots are available at CVS and Walgreens or you can make an appointment with your primary care physician. California residents can also visit MyTurn.ca.gov to book a flu vaccine appointment or search for a walk-in clinic.