EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 29, 2012

Flu season gets an early start

It's early but vaccine is plentiful; everyone urged to get flu shots now

By Jo-Anne MacKenzie

---- — It’s a little early, but the flu season has started.

New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services yesterday announced the first positive test result for the illness at the state laboratory.

Beth Daly, chief of infectious disease surveillance, said while the first positive test is a little early, it’s not by much.

“It’s a little early, but not in a concerning way,” Daly said yesterday. “It’s not unexpected.”

But, she added, it should get people to the doctor or pharmacy or clinic to get a flu vaccination — now.

It takes about 14 days after the shot for antibodies to build up, so protection against influenze isn’t immediate, Daly said. A flu shot last year isn’t going to protect anyone this flu season, she said.

“Because influenza strains are different and because your response to vaccine wanes over seven to 12 months, we recommend people get it every year,” Daly said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention generally considers early October the official start of the flu season. In terms of what strains of flu are expected this winter, the CDC and the World Health Organization monitor what happens around the world.

“They are predicting there will be new strains circulating this year so they have adapted the vaccine,” Daly said. “It continues to have H1N1, but they have changed the other two components, based on expectations from what’s going on in other parts of the world.”

H1N1 is now considered a seasonal strain and not of specific concern, Daly said.

The advice this year is no different than in recent years, she said. Everyone over the age of 6 months should be vaccinated, she said.

“It’s the perfect time to get vaccinated,” Daly said. “We don’t expect the peak of activity until later in the winter — January or February.”

Influenza is not reportable in New Hampshire, Daly said, because it is quite common.

“Anecdotally, we’re hearing there’s quite a bit of respiratory illness out in the community,” she said. “It could be influenza, it could not be.”

The good news is, there’s no shortage of flu vaccine this year, as there has been in years past.

New Hampshire plans at least 40 school-based clinics this year, most of them in the northern part of the state. Flu vaccine is free for all children in New Hampshire through age 18.

Nationally, it was a mild year for flu last winter. The season set a record for “the lowest and shortest peak for influenza-like-illness since this type of surveillance began,” according to a CDC report.

Daly said infectious disease experts aren’t sure why it was a mild year, nor are they willing to predict what this winter might bring.

The best advice, she reiterated, is for everyone to get a flu shut — and soon.

A call to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health was not returned. To find a flu clinic in the Bay State, visit mylocalclinic.com.

Prevent the flu Get a flu shot every year. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick with flu-like illness, the CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention