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Flu could come raging back

This article appeared in Michigan Medicine. Read more here.

With COVID-19 dominating the headlines and everyone’s lives for the past two years, the flu may seem like an afterthought.

However, this upcoming flu season has the potential to hit hard and could be especially rough on kids.

“We can get some indication of what the flu season might be like in the United States by observing the flu season in the Southern hemisphere, which occurs during our summer,” said Laraine Washer, M.D. medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology at Michigan Medicine.

She notes that this year, Australia experienced an early influenza season, reported to be its worst flu season in the last five years, with higher rates in young children.

“Perhaps because these children have not been exposed to influenza in the last few years during the COVID pandemic,” she said.

The past two flu seasons have been mild compared to pre-pandemic years. Washer notes this was likely the result of decreased social interactions, social distancing and masking in public spaces.

“With return to normal levels of social interaction, higher transmission of flu is likely this season,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months be vaccinated for influenza.

As for when to get your shot, said Audrey Fan, M.D., Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, “It’s best to be vaccinated before flu begins spreading in your community. September and October are generally good times to be vaccinated against flu. Ideally, everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October.”

However, she notes that even if you are not able to get vaccinated until November or later, vaccination is still recommended because flu most commonly peaks in February and significant activity can continue into May.

This year’s shot is especially recommended for people who are at higher risk of complications from influenza infection including children 5 years and younger, adults over age 50 years, people who are pregnant, people with extreme obesity, people with underlying health conditions or who have compromised immune systems, and anyone living in a nursing home or long-term care facility.

Parents can have their children aged 6 months to 3 years old vaccinated for flu at their pediatrician or family physician’s office, while children age 3 and up may also be vaccinated in local pharmacies, notes Debra Langolis, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of Pediatrics at U-M Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

Healthcare workers are also advised to get a flu shot.

This years’ formulation protects against four flu strains: an influenza A H3N2 strain, an influenza A H1N1 strain and 2 influenza B strains. And with an updated booster for COVID-19 now available, it is safe to get both vaccines at the same time, adds Langolis.

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You’ve got questions. That’s a good thing.

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