Preventing the flu could be tougher this year

Posted: Updated:
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- Flu season is beginning to ramp up in Arizona. Newly released data shows 108 cases were reported just in the past week.

This year, though, the flu may be harder to fight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is saying the vaccine could be less effective.

"One of the strains that is included in the flu vaccine has drifted or changed a little bit, which means that the vaccine doesn't perfectly cover that particular strain," said Jessica Rigler, chief of the Bureau of Epidemiology and Disease Control at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

In fact, the CDC says you have about a 50 percent shot that you'll be protected against that particular strain.

The Arizona Department of Health Services, which monitors influenza across the state, says each year scientists come up with a vaccine based on their best guess of what flu strain will be circulating in the upcoming season.

"Sometimes those guesses are great and spot on, and the flu vaccine is very effective. Then there's other years where you see a drift, which happens with viruses, and the vaccine isn't quite as effective as it could be," Rigler said.

Health officials say, though, that does not mean you should skip the vaccine.

"If you've gotten the flu vaccine, great job, because the flu vaccine remains the best protection we have against the flu, and it's better to be protected some than not at all," Rigler said.

The family physician 3TV spoke with agreed.

"Even if you are unlucky enough to get one of the strains that the flu shot doesn't quite cover, then you may not get it as bad," said Dr. Eric Goldberg of Scottsdale Healthcare Primary Care Arcadia.

Goldberg says in the past week he has seen an increase of patients coming in complaining of flu-like symptoms.

"The hallmark of the flu is, 'I just got hit by a truck,' " he said.

In addition to the vaccine, Goldberg says there are other basic things we can all do to fight back this flu season.

"Washing hands is really important, covering your cough, staying home if you have a fever, don't send your kids to school if they've got a fever," Goldberg said.

However, if in spite of all those precautions you still end up with the illness, there are antivirals like Tamiflu to help you get back on your feet.

"They shorten the course of the illness by a couple of days, and they kind of lower the severity of the illness," Goldberg said.

So far this flu season, more than 200 cases of influenza have been confirmed -- a majority of those coming from Maricopa and Pima counties.