Following two of the mildest flu seasons in recent history, reports of a resurgence of the disease in the Southern Hemisphere this summer and the loosening of COVID-related restrictions are raising concerns in the United States that influenza may be returning to pre-pandemic levels.
Scripps Health physicians say the best way for everyone to protect themselves from the flu is to get vaccinated. Flu shots are now available at most Scripps Clinic and Scripps Coastal primary care sites across San Diego County.
“Now is the time to get vaccinated,” said Siu Ming Geary, MD, an internal medicine physician and vice president of primary care at Scripps Clinic Medical Group. “While we still don’t know how bad this flu season will be, we know for certain that vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your family against influenza.”
In Australia, where influenza typically spreads during the summer, this year’s season started historically early in April and has been worse than each of the previous five years, according to health officials there. The infection has been particularly prevalent among children and teenagers who have had little to no exposure to the virus in recent years and aren’t up to date on vaccinations.
American health experts use Australia as a barometer to predict what might be in store for the United States later in the year when flu season typically emerges here.
Beyond the physical discomfort and schedule disruptions that a routine flu infection can bring, the virus also can be deadly. During the 2019-20 flu season prior to the COVID pandemic, 105 people died from the virus in San Diego County while the disease killed as many as 22,000 nationally.
And once again, there is a possibility that a new variant of COVID could trigger another surge of coronavirus cases while influenza is spreading across the region and country this fall and winter. That would put even more strain on health systems which have been under near constant stress for the last two and a half years.
“It’s in everyone’s interest to do what we can to keep influenza in check as much as possible,” said Anthony Chong, MD, a family medicine physician and chief medical officer at Scripps Coastal Medical Center. “That means getting vaccinated, washing hands often, avoiding people who are sick, staying home and avoiding others if you have symptoms, and making sure you are current on recommended COVID vaccinations.
“It’s also safe to get both your COVID and flu vaccines at the same visit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so there is no need to wait to get one or the other,” Dr. Chong added.
Because there are many different flu viruses and they constantly evolve, this year’s vaccine is designed to cover the four strains expected to be the most common in circulation during the 2022-23 influenza season: Influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), influenza B (Victoria) and influenza B (Yamagata). The new mix includes an update that matches up with the new version of H3N2 that emerged as the predominant strain during the 2021-22 flu season and extended the season far into summer months.
Flu vaccine is now available widely across San Diego County, including at most Scripps Clinic and Scripps Coastal primary care sites, which are open by appointment to all Scripps patients.
Drive-through vaccination is also available at selected Scripps sites by appointment. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, everyone is required to wear face masks while at Scripps facilities, including for the drive-through appointments.
Scripps patients can use the MyScripps portal to schedule a visit to their primary care physician to receive vaccination for influenza, pneumonia and other illnesses, or they can call their primary care physician’s office directly. Others can dial 800-727-4777 for flu vaccination information.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend annual influenza vaccination for everyone 6 months or older, especially those who are at high risk for complications from the flu, including people 65 years and older; children under the age of 2; pregnant women; and people with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, neurological conditions, blood disorders, weakened immune systems and morbid obesity.
Once the vaccine is administered, it takes about two weeks for the body to build up enough antibodies to develop immunity.
Common flu symptoms include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue, and some people, more commonly children, may experience vomiting and diarrhea.
Scripps physicians also recommend these other practices during flu season:
- Wear a facemask when out in public.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Watch out for flu symptoms, which can include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.
- Stay away from sick people.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- If you become sick, stay home from work and school, and avoid contact with others. The CDC recommends staying home for a least 24 hours after a fever is gone without using fever-reducing medicine.
- Avoid the emergency room unless you are suffering from more serious flu symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; chest or abdomen pain or pressure; sudden dizziness; confusion; severe or persistent vomiting; or flu symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and a worse cough.
- For children, seek emergency medical help if they are breathing fast or are having trouble breathing; have bluish skin color; aren’t drinking enough fluids; aren’t waking up or interacting; are so irritable they don’t want to be held; have a fever with a rash; aren’t able to eat; don’t shed tears when crying; have significantly fewer wet diapers than normal; or have flu symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and a worse cough.
- Check with your doctor to see if you should be treated with an antiviral drug.
- If you are experiencing symptoms, use home COVID tests to see if you might be positive for that virus.