- A new report from the CDC finds that the flu shot was over 50% effective at preventing illness during the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere.
- The report sheds light on what might happen during the upcoming flu season in the U.S.
- The seasonal flu is linked to tens of thousands of deaths annually in the U.S.
As fall begins in the Northern Hemisphere, winter in the Southern Hemisphere is winding down in preparation for spring.
With these changing seasons also comes data about the upcoming flu season in the United States.
The seasonal flu vaccine is tweaked yearly to target the circulating viral strains. Data from the flu vaccine in the Southern Hemisphere can shed light on what we can expect in the winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
Early signs point to the flu vaccine preventing illness in the Southern Hemisphere with 52% effectiveness. This means the vaccine being produced for the upcoming flu season in the U.S. could be as effective.
Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC states that “early, interim estimates, provided before the expected end of seasonal influenza virus circulation, suggest that vaccination substantially reduced the risk for severe influenza illnesses, underscoring the benefits of influenza vaccination.”
Based on data from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay on 2,780 severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) patients hospitalized from March 27 to July 9, 2023, the vaccine effectiveness associated with any influenza virus was 52%.
“This suggests that if the same strains of the virus continue to circulate, we could see the vaccine providing similar benefits against severe disease and hospitalizations,” said Hannah Newman, MPH, senior director of infection prevention at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital. “While I don’t have a crystal ball, the success of this year’s flu vaccine in South America makes me hopeful that we will have a similar experience in the United States.”
Although flu season data from South America can be helpful indicator for North America, virus strains can also mutate slightly making the vaccine less effective during the U.S. winter season.
Each year, the CDC
Symptoms of the flu can range from mild to severe, including the onset of:
Hospitalizations and deaths occur mostly in high risk groups. People at higher risk, according to the
- pregnant people
- very young children
- older adults
- individuals with chronic medical conditions (i.e., chronic cardiac, pulmonary, or kidney disease)
- people with suppressed immune systems
Healthcare workers are also at high risk of developing the disease, given the increased exposure to patients with influenza.
While there is no cure for the flu, it is possible to take measures to reduce the risk of exposure and lessen symptoms. Getting a flu vaccine is one of the best measures to help keep ourselves and those around us safe from severe illness.
“Influenza severity and peak of season can be difficult to predict, and the best preparation is to get vaccinated annually,” said Newman.
“The CDC typically recommends getting your flu shot before the flu season begins. Getting vaccinated early allows your body time — usually about two weeks — to develop immunity before activity picks up so you’ll be well protected.”
Newman recommended September and October as good times to get vaccinated, ideally before the end of October.
“However,” she added, “it’s important to note that it’s never too late. Getting a flu shot later in the season is still beneficial to protect yourself and those around you.”
Flu shots are available to everyone and are free with most insurance or with government assistance.
You can schedule an appointment with a primary care physician, pediatrician, etc.
Drug stores like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid often offer walk-in flu shots without an appointment. Pharmacies within grocery store chains like Kroger, Safeway, and Publix also offer flu shots. Community health clinics often provide flu shots at low or no cost, as do flu shot clinics.
“Some employers offer flu shots to their employees at on-site clinics or through partnerships with healthcare providers,” said Newman. “Remember to check the specific location beforehand to verify availability, schedule, and any requirements.”
The website Vaccines.gov can help people find and schedule flu vaccines in their area.
Protecting yourself from illness during flu season
Other ways to prevent the flu include:
- cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces
- getting plenty of sleep
- staying active
- managing stress
- maintaining a healthy diet
If you feel any flu-like symptoms, it is best to stay away from other people. If your child experiences any flu-like symptoms, keeping them home from school is best.
The CDC also recommends
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Cover your mouth and use a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
A new report from the CDC finds that the flu vaccine was over 50% effective at preventing illness in the Southern Hemisphere.
That may be a predictor that the vaccines being developed for this upcoming flu season in the U.S. will effectively stop infections.