U.S. Prepares for Flu Season

Sep 29, 2011 | Jane Huston | Research & Policy

In the average year, anywhere from five- to twenty-percent of the U.S. population will get the flu. The most effective way to decrease that percentage is vaccination. As we enter the flu season, generally late fall through early spring, the importance of getting an annual flu shot cannot be overstated.

The Power of Vaccination

A recent study authored by HealthMap team members Drs. Anne Gatewood Hoen and John Brownstein and published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal demonstrates the power of the flu shot. Since 2006, U.S. officials have recommended flu shots for children aged two-to-four years, while Canadian policy did not yet include this age group in their recommended populations for vaccination. This created a “natural experiment,” and researchers were able to compare emergency room visits made between 2000 and 2009 at Children’s Hospital Boston and Montreal Children’s Hospital. The goal of the study was to evaluate the impact of the policy change in the U.S.

Results showed that emergency department visits for flu-like illness in the target population decreased by 34 percent in Boston when compared to Montreal. Additionally, flu rates fell in older children by nearly 18 percent; reasons for a drop in this group could be explained by decreased exposure from younger, vaccinated siblings or perhaps families were motivated to vaccinate all of their children. Both Canada and the U.S. now recommend flu shots for everyone over the age of six months.

2011-2012 Flu Vaccine

The flu shot for the current year provides protection against the seasonal flu (influenza A, subtype H3N2), the strain behind the 2009 pandemic flu (H1N1), and the less common influenza B. Experts recommend receiving a flu shot every year because, in addition to changes in types of flu circulating, protection generally lasts for only six months to one year. There is also a new option this year with the intradermal vaccine, available for ages 18 to 64 years. Other options are the standard intramuscular injection, a nasal spray for ages 2 to 49, and the high-dose injectable vaccine for people over age 65. Whatever option you choose, get vaccinated and protect yourself, your friends, coworkers and family from the flu.

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