As many of us probably know, the flu is making its rounds in a big way this year. Last week, health officials described the flu season as “moderately severe” due to persistent cold weather and an imperfect vaccine.
We checked in with Peter Bidey, D.O., Medical Director of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and member of the Inquirer Health Advisory Panel, about what’s happening and basics tips to try to stay healthy.
What’s going on with this year’s flu? Why is the flu vaccine imperfect?
Currently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is showing that the majority of influenza cases are the H3N2 strain of influenza, which can strike early in the flu season and often can make both the young and elderly very sick. Due to the fact that it has been particularly cold, and with the virus striking during the holiday seasons this makes more of us stay indoors, together, in more confined spaces. This circulated air and close contact is a perfect scenario to spread the virus itself.
Last, but not least, the virus can mutate both in the population as it circulates and the virus that was used to make the vaccine can also have mutations occur during the process. Both of these factors can make the vaccine imperfect and not always cover all strains of the virus each year. For example, some estimates are saying that this year’s vaccine is approximately 30 percent effective.
Are products marketed as immune boosters for kids such as vitamin C gummies or drops worth using?
Immune boosters that contain Vitamin C and other antioxidants are not specifically bad. However, there is not a vast amount of data that shows that these compounds provide any benefit. Although they might not hurt a patient, these key minerals and vitamins are best absorbed by eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables year round and not just during illnesses.
What are some ways to keep our kids’ immunity up?
To answer this question, just think back to what your mother or father told you when you were sick. It is always best to:
- Wash your hands frequently
- Get the proper amount of sleep
- Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough with a tissue or into your elbow.
- If sick, try to avoid contact with other individuals so that you do not spread the disease.
- If not sick, try to avoid coming in contact with sick individuals.
- Eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables
- Always contact your primary care provider if symptoms are not improving or worsening
Should my family get flu shots if we didn’t yet?
Emphatically, yes! It is not too late in the season and although the vaccine is not perfect, it still can do a lot of good. The vaccine can still protect you from some strains of this year’s influenza. If you or a loved one still do contract the flu, the vaccine can allow you to have a much milder case and help protect you from needing hospitalization.