As schools nationwide begin the new school year, Americans of all ages are encouraged to get their seasonal flu shot. Last October, APHA partnered with Healthmap of Children’s Hospital Boston and the Skoll Global Threats Fund to create Flu Near You, a site where any individual living in the United States, 13 years of age or older, can register to complete brief weekly surveys that track flu trends across the country. Public Health Newswire sat down with APHA’s Flu Near You Fellow Michelle Holshue, RN, BSN, to educate the public about flu preparedness and strategies to prevent and protect families — especially children — against other infectious diseases.
Below, Holshue talks about what to expect for the 2012 flu season and how to prevent another deadly disease. Please view the YouTube video at the top of the screen for tips that can help you “prevent, protect and live well.”
Q: A reported 348 children died during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009 and hundreds of lives were lost due to flu outbreaks the following year. 2011 featured one of the mildest flu seasons in recent memory. Should Americans expect another mild flu season?
Influenza is a very tricky thing. I have a friend from the CDC who says, ‘If you’ve seen one flu season, you’ve seen one flu season.’ So there’s really no way to tell what’s going to happen with the coming flu season this year. The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommends that everyone older than six months of age gets a seasonal flu shot, because you never know. Right now, there are three strains that go into every seasonal flu shot. They change the mixture every year if they need to, based on the viruses that are circulating most commonly around the world, and this year, two of three of the viral strains are different from last year. So it’s really important that people get the flu shot, that they get it early and they get it every year. The [Food and Drug Administration] says that vaccination is the best method to prevent the flu. Because flu season is so unpredictable, sometimes we have very few deaths like in 2011, and sometimes we have 50,000 people — who are mostly young children and older adults, but also some high-risks groups like sicker people who are in their middle age and pregnant women. You never really know, which is why prevention is so important.
Q: We have seen a large spike in reports of pertussis — or whooping cough — which causes violent coughing and makes it hard for victims to breathe. What are the best ways to safeguard from this disease?
The number one thing to protect yourself and family from pertussis is to get vaccinated. Babies start their vaccines for pertussis at two months. It’s a series of five shots and they finish at 4-6 years of age. Because babies don’t start getting vaccinated until two months of age, it’s important for adults to also make sure that they are vaccinated. This is called TDAP, Tetanus Diphtheria Pertussis, and adults should have at least one TDAP booster in their life. Any adults having a newborn baby, or if someone is their family is pregnant or expecting a child anytime soon — absolutely get the TDAP booster. If you’re not sure if you’ve had it, check with your doctor and they can advise you about what to do. This is really, really important because most of the deaths from pertussis cases we’ve seen recently have been in children under three months of age. And they’re often getting sick from their mothers or their grandparents or an aunt and uncle, who are well meaning but aren’t properly vaccinated and are getting these infants sick. It’s also important to keep young children and other people who are at high risk for contracting pertussis away from anyone who is sick. If someone in your family wants to come visit your baby, it’s totally okay for you to say, “You’re sick. Come back when you feel better.” I encourage my patients to ask their adult family members if they’ve had a booster of TDAP. Because if not, they could be putting their newborn baby at risk.