Last year, there were more than 2,900 cases of influenza reported to the Franklin County Health Department.
Now, with new cases already coming in, officials are urging residents to get their flu shots early to prepare for what could be yet another record-breaking season.
Health Department Director Angie Hittson says there really are no warning signs to determine how harsh the flu season may be.
“I cannot predict what the flu season will be like,” she said. “We will see one or two cases reported in the summer, but that does not give us a good indication of what the flu season will be like. It all depends on testing. Flu may be out in the community in higher numbers than we know but if the testing is not being done, the data will not be as good.”
Hittson added the most important message to get out to the public is to be proactive to prevent the flu.
“Get your flu shot early, stay home when you are ill and always use good hand washing,” she said.
Also last year, because of the huge flu outbreaks, some private medical facilities ran out of the flu vaccines late in the season.
“We prebook our flu order very early in the year in order to have enough doses available to order,” Hittson said. “The amount of vaccine we order is based off of what we used the year before. We typically do not have an issue with running out of vaccine.”
Hittson added the county will be ordering as needed to maintain its vaccine supply.
“We can order as frequently as needed,” she said. “There is always the chance that the manufacturer will run low on certain presentations of flu vaccine, but in the past we have not had difficulty obtaining vaccines.”
The past two years there have been record numbers of flu cases in Franklin County, statewide and nationwide.
Some of those cases include patients who had received the flu shot, which protects against certain strains, only to be infected by other strains of influenza later in the season.
There were even rumors early in the 2017-18 season that the flu vaccine would be ineffective.
Hittson said after two years of no change, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the formula has been updated.
“Flu vaccines have been updated to better match circulating viruses,” she explained. “There are many different flu viruses and they are constantly changing. The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated as needed to match circulating flu viruses. Flu vaccines protect against the three or four viruses (depending on vaccine) that research suggests will be most common. For 2018-2019, trivalent (three-component) vaccines are recommended.”
Hittson encourages people to get the flu vaccine early and be proactive to stop the spread of flu by staying home if ill.
“As always, we would love for people to support public health by coming here for the flu vaccine,”she said. “We are open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. for immunizations.”
A flu immunization stays in the patient’s system for approximately one year.