The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) is looking far from the Midwest to see what this year’s flu season might bring. Each year, flu cases in the southern hemisphere, in places like Australia, are tracked to help predict what will be seen in the northern hemisphere a few months later. This helps scientists determine what to include in the flu vaccine for North America.
So far this year, Australia has reported cases that far exceed those in the last two flu seasons. This may be because the most common influenza virus reported there this year is influenza A; it tends to lead to higher case counts and larger outbreaks. If Missouri’s flu season mimics what Australia is already seeing, there could be deadly consequences.
Scotland County Health Department Director Margret Curry stated the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory reported more than 70,000 lab-positive influenza cases for the 2016-2017 flu season. This easily spread virus can prove especially dangerous for some patients: there were also 99 influenza-associated deaths reported over the same period.
“The best defense we have against flu is the influenza vaccine, or flu shot,” said DHSS director Dr. Randall Williams. “Having cared for patients for 30 years as a practicing physician, I saw that flu shots are critical for the greater good of our community. By protecting ourselves, we help protect our most vulnerable populations: newborn babies, pregnant women, the elderly and those whose health is already compromised. They are the most susceptible to serious flu illness and complications, including death. That’s why we recommend everyone six months or older gets a flu shot to help decrease exposure.”
Flu activity often increases in October and November before peaking between December and February. By receiving a flu shot, the body’s immune response to the virus will improve to provide protection against the influenza viruses that are likely to be common this flu season. For more information or to find a flu shot location near you, visit health.mo.gov/flu or talk to your local health department, pharmacist or medical provider.