Hurricanes, fires may be a factor
Special for USA TODAY
This could be a particularly rough flu season, officials warned Thursday — possibly made worse by hurricanes and wildfires that have disrupted medical routines and forced people into close contact at shelters.
Anyone over 6 months old should be getting an annual flu shot, said Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price at a news conference encouraging Americans to get vaccinated. Flu season usually starts in October.
Since 2010, annual hospitalizations for the flu ranged from 140,000 to 710,000 and deaths from 12,000 to 56,000, Price said.
Nearly 47% of Americans got the vaccine last year, a 1.2% increase from the year before, but still not good enough, Price said.
The flu vaccine does not offer perfect protection, said William Schaffner, medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. The vaccine is effective 40% to 60% of the time, he said, but it also reduces the risk of severe disease and hospitalization: “With the ‘pretty good’ vaccine, we can do an awful lot of good.”
Hurricanes in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean and fires in the West may add a new dimension this year by interfering with medical care for people who have been displaced, said Kjersti Aagaard, a specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
And with people in shelters or bunking with family members, viruses can pass more easily, she said: “We’re hitting the flu season kind of with a perfect storm.”
There should be plenty of vaccine this year, Price said: 166 million doses are available.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price gets a flu shot Thursday at his news conference in Washington.
PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS, AP