This year's flu season is coming on fast and strong, especially in the South and Southeast. The extra bad news: Only about a third of people got vaccinated early this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The good news: This year's vaccine seems to very effective, there are no reported shortages, and it's still not too late to get it.
The number of people hospitalized by the flu this season is up sharply compared with this time last year, as are the number of children who have died of it, with 16 pediatric deaths reported from October to the end of December. The disease appeared first in Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi back in November, and has since spread into the Midwest and Northeast. And the CDC expects the season to get much worse before it gets better, potentially making it one of the worst flu seasons in the last decade.
Despite that, many people remain skeptical of the flu vaccine. That's a mistake, says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports' chief medical adviser. "The benefits of the regular flu vaccine far outweigh any risks," he says. "Thousands of people die from this disease every year. Get your shot now." (If you need more convincing, see our article 12 Reasons For Skipping the Flu Shot Are Exposed)
However, our medical experts do say that most people should avoid the high-dose flu vaccine, Fluzone. The vaccine was approved by the FDA for people 65 and older in 2009, but has not been proved to be more effective, and seems to cause more side effects like headaches and malaise. We think that until there is more certainty that the hoped-for increased effectiveness of Fluzone is worth the somewhat increased incidence of sore arms and other minor side effects, older people should stick with the standard flu vaccine.
If you already have the flu, see our advice on how to ease the symptoms.
Source: Flu Activity and Surveillance [CDC]