Auburn pharmacy professor expects stronger than average flu season

Published: October 14, 2019
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Experts are predicting a stronger than normal strain of influenza this year. With already confirmed cases in Alabama and even deaths in some parts of the country, health care professionals strongly suggest getting the flu vaccine.

“It is not too early to get the flu vaccine. It is important to get vaccinated at the start of the flu season so that protection lasts through the peak activity,” said Spencer Durham, associate clinical professor and infectious disease specialist in the Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy. “Although you can receive the vaccine at any point during the flu season, it is best to receive it soon after it is available as this gives the best chance of not acquiring the flu throughout the season.”

The primary way of predicting the flu comes from looking at how the flu season faired in the Southern Hemisphere, particularly in Australia. The flu season this year in Australia claimed more than 600 lives and affected more than 250,000 people.

“This year, the flu season in Australia was one of the worst in many years,” said Durham. “Part of the reason for this is that two strains of the flu emerged which were unexpected. Because these strains were not anticipated to be the major strains observed this season, they were not included in the flu vaccine. If these strains move to the United States, which is the natural progression, we will likely see a similar season.”

The state of Alabama started seeing cases of the flu in September. Flu activity is expected to gradually increase, peaking typically in January. While early in the season, people should consider getting the flu vaccine as early as possible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annual influenza vaccinations for everyone age 6 months or older. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of influenza complications, including pregnant women, older adults and young children. Children between 6 months and 8 years may need two doses of the flu vaccine, given at least four weeks apart, to be fully protected.

Additionally, those who smoke, either tobacco, e-cigarettes or vaporizers, are at an increased risk of complications from the flu.

“The flu can be more severe in people who smoke cigarettes and people who vape as both cause damage to the inside of the lungs,” said Durham. “If someone acquires the flu, and their lungs are already damaged, the flu is more severe and is more likely to lead to complications, such as pneumonia and difficulty breathing. In addition, there is data to show that people who vape are actually more likely to acquire the flu.”

Those interested in receiving the flu vaccine should visit their pharmacist or primary care physician.

“Pharmacists are well-qualified to give vaccines, and most community pharmacies offer the vaccine as soon as it is available,” said Durham. “Additionally, most primary care physicians offer the vaccine in their offices.”

Auburn University's Harrison School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master's in pharmaceutical sciences. For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit the Harrison School of Pharmacy website.