CDC considers flu “widespread” in Alabama

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This year’s strain of influenza is now considered “widespread” in Alabama and is likely to increase, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With the flu now in its peak season, experts at Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy encourage people to take advantage of the vaccine.

Alabama is one of 19 states reporting high levels of the flu at the end of 2018. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, almost every county in the state is reporting significant flu activity. What makes this spike in activity more significant is data that many adults have put off getting the flu vaccine.

According to a recent survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 43 percent of American adults said they had already received a flu shot. The majority of people who hadn’t been vaccinated already, 41 percent of the total sample, said they were not planning to get the shot at all. Fourteen percent said they were planning to get a flu shot but had not done so yet.

Dr. Spencer Durham, an assistant clinical professor and infectious disease specialist in the Harrison School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacy Practice, said the peak of flu season is just getting under way and people should consider getting a flu shot.

“Influenza season generally begins in October and can last through May, with peak activity usually between December and February,” said Durham. “Patients should get vaccinated as soon as possible after the vaccine is available, and ideally prior to peak activity.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, reviews the effectiveness of the vaccine each year and oftentimes bases expectations on how virulent the strain was and how it was treated in the southern hemisphere, such as Australia. So far, the current vaccine appears to have worked well in that region and is performing better than last year’s vaccine.

“For the current season, the H3N2 strain included in the vaccine has been updated to better match the circulating strain, which will hopefully result in better protection against this strain compared to last year,” said Durham. “It is important to remember that, even if a patient gets the flu after receiving the vaccine, it is not usually as severe as if the patient had not received the vaccine at all. This is one of the reasons it is so important to get vaccinated.”

The CDC 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.

“Certain patients are at a higher risk of developing complications from the flu, such as pneumonia or having to be hospitalized. These patients include: children age 6 months to 5 years; adults 50 years of age and above; patients with chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD; patients with diabetes mellitus; and patients who have lower immune system function, such as patients who have cancer or HIV,” said Durham. “It is important to keep in mind that it is recommended for all patients to receive the flu vaccine, not just these patients who are at higher risk of complications.”

Auburn University's Harrison College 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 College of Pharmacy website.