The new flu season is slowly arriving, and Will County Health Department Epidemiology & Infectious Disease Coordinator Alpesh Patel says that so far there are few surprises.
As Patel has explained before, the planning for the new flu season begins as soon as the previous one is considered concluded, and then continues all through the summer. The serum that is created for the new season’s flu shots is based upon educated guesses and projections. And those projections come from what happened during the previous flu season in North America, along with what is happening in other continents around the world.
Patel says the overseas continent studied by the federal Centers for Disease Control more than any other is probably Australia. He says there are two strong reasons for this. “They have a less tropical climate, one that’s more like ours. And being in the southern hemisphere, they have their winter during our summer. They study us as much as we study them.”
This year’s flu shot serum is predominately made to fight three specific flu strains: H1N1, H3N2 (commonly known as “Hong Kong Flu”), and the B-Strain Brisbane Virus. Ironically, the latter of the three has had a very strong resurgence this year in Australia, especially the northeastern state of Queensland.
Patel says all three of these targeted flu strains bring about pretty much the same flu symptoms: such as the abrupt onset of fever, head and body aches, fatigue, extreme stuffiness, and sore throat.
H1N1, not surprisingly, still rings a bell with many people from the fall of 2009 scare, and all the clinics that were set up to get last minute vaccine to children and those at risk as soon as possible. Patel says that looking back now, there were two major factors that led to the scare.
“One was the surprise element,” Patel recalled. “The Centers for Disease Control cannot catch each and every flu strain, and this one was unknown at the time. Then, since it was new, we did not know if the H1N1 symptoms would be normal, or something more severe.”
Today, H1N1 is simply one of many flu strains that are tracked, and like the others, causes the usual flu symptoms and reappears every so often.
Patel says that from May 24th through late October, Will County Hospitals reported a total of 274 admissions for flu-like symptoms. However, only about one-third of those tested to be actual cases of the flu, and nearly all of those confirmed flu cases were indeed one of the three strains targeted by the current flu shot serum.
However, starting in January, the number of admissions for possible flu symptoms will most likely significantly rise; sometimes peaking, Patel says, at around 500 countywide by what is usually the busiest month for the flu: February. And often, by then, more than one-third of those admissions will test positive for the flu.
Patel says it is also important to realize that although the “seasonal pattern” for the flu is usually observed as about September through February, there is “no magic bullet” that makes it possible to only catch the flu during winter months. He says that flu strains are always out there, 365 days a year, readjusting and reforming.
What makes the flu more prevalent in the winter, Patel reminds us, is that because the weather is cold “people are keeping indoors more, and shut inside without the ventilation of screen doors and open windows. Therefore, you have much more closeness between people, making them more contagious if they are ill, especially during the holidays.”
Patel also reminds us that it is never too late to receive your flu shot, especially since so far this year, it looks like the flu shot serum that was projected ahead of time is turning out to be right on target. He recommends that you speak with your doctor, visit the Health Department’s Community Health Center, 1106 Neal Avenue in Joliet (815-727-8670); or visit the Health Department’s Immunization Clinic, 501 Ella Avenue in Joliet (815-740-8143) during walk-in hours.
Those Immunization Clinic walk-in hours are Monday, Thursday, and Friday 8 to 11:30 AM (closed 4th Friday of month), Tuesday 1 to 4 PM, and Wednesday 1 to 6 PM.
For more information on trends this flu season, you can visit the Centers for Disease Control website at https://cdc.gov/flu