There's no escaping the flu season, which runs from October to May and typically peaks in the U.S. between December and February.
But this year, we're seeing a delayed start with no confirmed cases yet in Virginia and generally low activity nationwide. At the same time last year, Virginia had reported sporadic activity for several weeks, which then became widespread in December.
"Every season is a little bit different — we're in line with what the nation is seeing as a whole," said Andrea Alvarez, influenza program coordinator for the Virginia Department of Health.
That means there's still time to protect against the seasonal virus with a flu shot. This year the vaccines and the circulating virus appear more closely matched than last, when "drift" occurred. Even then, immunization provides a measure of protection, health authorities say.
"People may be more wary since last year's wasn't a good match. But so far so good, it's a good match for the circulating strains," said Alvarez.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which monitors flu activity, recommends the vaccine for everyone six months and older (unless not recommended by their physician) each year. It also notes that children up to age 8 may need two doses, administered four weeks apart, to attain full protection. The shot takes two weeks to provide fully effective coverage.
The vaccine is available free to anyone with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act mandate on preventive care, and is widely available at pharmacies, clinics, health departments and doctors' offices. Those most at risk are people age 65 and older, children younger than 2, and those with compromised immune systems, according to the Virginia Department of Health. These include people with asthma, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer or HIV/AIDS, or who are pregnant.
More than 132 million doses of vaccine have been distributed nationwide, divided between trivalent (three strains) and quadrivalent (four strains). High-dose vaccines, recommended for those 65 and older, are all trivalent and are delivered intramuscularly. One is now approved for delivery with a "jet injector" that uses a high pressure, narrow stream of fluid to penetrate the skin, instead of a hypodermic needle.
Both the nasal sprays, which use a live attenuated strain, and the intradermal are quadrivalent.
"The quadrivalent has a second strain of influenza B and has a wider protection," said Alvarez, who said its use is a matter of availability. The CDC and the Health Department don't recommend one type of vaccine over the other, she added.
Salasky can be reached by phone at 757-247-4784.