The changing of the seasons is a marker for the passage of time, as summer gives way to fall. Fall is the time of preparation for the long winter months that are soon to come and with it the challenges of controlling the spread of illness.
By Melissa Anderson
October is when flu shots begin being administered by health officials to reduce the impact the virus has on Americans’ health. The Center, for Disease Control (CDC) has been tracking ‘flu season’ for over three decades, with the results showing the kickoff usually occurring in October. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May.
“The timing of flu is unpredictable and can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season. Seasonal flu viruses can be detected year-round; however, seasonal flu activity often begins as early as October and November and can continue to occur as late as May. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States between December and February,” the CDC states.
Data collected during the 2018-2019 flu season had between 37 and 43 million cases of flu being reported across the United States. The North Dakota Department of Health has already begun tracking lab identified cases of flu beginning in late August. To date, there have already been 15 confirmed cases of the flu in the state, the closest being just a short drive away in Pembina County.
“It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body,” explained Cavalier County Public Health nurse Terri Gustafson.
Every year, the CDC conducts a survey to determine how well the flu vaccine protects against the illness. While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of illness by 40 to 60 percent among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.
“There are many flu viruses, and they are always changing. Even when the vaccine doesn’t exactly match these viruses, the vaccine may still provide some protection,” Gustafson said.
There are two main types of influenza (flu) virus: Types A and B. The influenza A and B viruses that routinely spread in people are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics each year. Gustafson explained that there are many factors that play into how severe a flu season will be such as immunization rates.
“Some strains of the flu can be worse than others,” Gustafson added.
At least two factors play an important role in determining the likelihood that the flu vaccine will protect a person from the flu: the characteristics of the person being vaccinated, such as their age and health and the similarity or “match” between the flu viruses the flu vaccine is designed to protect against and the flu viruses spreading in the community.
“Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exception. Vaccination is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza,” Gustafson shared.
Influenza can result in very serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infection and ear infection. Each year thousands of people in the United States die from the flu and many more are hospitalized. Flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related visits to the doctor each year. By getting vaccinated you not only protect yourself but also those around you.
“The best way to protect yourself from the influenza is by washing hands and getting a flu shot,” Gustafson advised.
Cavalier County Public Health has the following flu vaccine clinics scheduled:
• October 10 – Cavalier County Public Health Office from 8:00 – 4:30
• October 18 – Cavalier County Public Health Office from 8:00-4:30
• October 21 – Munich Ambulance Center from 9:00 – 10:00
• October 28 – Cavalier County Public Health Office from 8:00 – 4:30
• November 7 – Cavalier County Public Health Office from 800 – 4:30
• November 15 – Cavalier County Public Health Office from 800 – 4:30
• November 19 – Cavalier County Public Health Office from 8:00 – 4:30
Flu vaccines will continue to be available after scheduled flu clinics throughout the winter months into the spring by appointment or on a drop-in basis until the flu vaccine is no longer available.