Health professionals urge flu shots despite concerns in Australia

Preparing a flu shot. KXAN Photo.
Preparing a flu shot. KXAN Photo.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — While a report about the flu this season in Australia is sparking concern on the internet, health professionals in Austin say it doesn’t necessarily mean bad news for this flu season and vaccines in the U.S.

The article published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week looked at data from this year’s flu season in Australia which has already experienced its winter in the Southern Hemisphere to track down possible clues to how flu season will play out in the Northern Hemisphere.

According to Australian government data, the number of cases in Australia totaled to 215,280, whereas the total number of cases reported during the 2009 flu pandemic in Australia was 59,022. The report also noted the strain of the flu that dominated was the Influenza A H3N2 strain, and the vaccine was estimated to be only 10 percent effective against that strain.

But, Dr. Coburn Allen, MD, Ascension’s Dell Children’s Infectious Disease Specialist, has been monitoring the flu in Austin and doesn’t believe this report means that flu season will be any worse than normal in the U.S.

“The data coming out saying it didn’t work very well in Australia, doesn’t mean it won’t work here,” Allen said. He explained that U.S. vaccines have different manufacturers than the vaccines they have in Australia. “And we know that there was a specific problem with the manufacturing and a mutation that occurred within the manufacturing [in Australia].”

Allen has been a physician since 1994, he said that this year has been a fairly typical year for the flu at Dell Children’s Medical Center.

“We’ve had some very busy days in the ER, already at Dell Children, seeing upwards of 300 children and a large percentage of those were flu,” he said.

Allen explained that the hospital generally sees an increase in flu cases in October and November, but the numbers really peak in December and January. He added that it’s not too late to get your flu shot for this year, if your last flu shot was before this summer, you will need a new one designed to combat this year’s viruses.

“I’m an absolute believer that everyone should vaccinate if they can, that means all children over 6 months of age need to receive vaccines,” Allen said.

Vaccines play a major role in preventing flu-related deaths, Allen said. Even if the vaccines don’t prevent the flu, he explained that just getting vaccinated will likely lessen your symptoms.

For children, the symptoms which come after the initial flu can be the most dangerous.

“Right when you think your child should be getting better, three to five days into the illness, if they suddenly have a hard time breathing or look very ill, that’s what they see with secondary pneumonia where a bacteria will come back and pick on the child after the flu set in,” Allen said.

Outside of getting the flu shot, Allen said it helps for those with the flu to stay home from school or work.

In terms of flu-related deaths in the U.S. this year, Allen explained that the numbers are where they usually are.

“In the United States, typically there will be 10,000 to 40,000 deaths a year, of those less than 1,000 are in children, and this year we only had one [pediatric] death in our region, there are 10 regions in America, and 5 deaths in all of America in pediatrics,” he explained.

Austin Public Health recommends flu vaccinations as well.

“While flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, it is the best way to prevent flu illness and serious flu complications, including those that can result in hospitalization,” said Carole Barasch with Austin Public Health.

She added that vaccine effectiveness can range from 30 to 60 percent, but even at those percentages the vaccination prevents hospitalization and keeps the region’s immunity stronger over all.

Fatima Stevenson, an Austin mother, got her two young children vaccinated Sunday.

“It’s something doctors recommend, so I just get it to get protected with my kids or family, because you know you don’t want your kids sick or yourself,” said Stevenson. She says knowing her daughter is protected puts her conscience at ease.

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