14:58 PM

Experts Predict Severe Flu Season, Question Flu Vaccine Effectiveness. What Parents Need To Know.

Are we ready for the upcoming flu season?

Only time will tell for sure, but a new article published in The New England Journal of Medicine makes the case for a potentially severe influenza season.

The article explains that clinical experts have been watching the Southern Hemisphere, which recently went through its “flu season,” for signs of what might be in store for us in the north.

Australia saw record-high amounts of flu cases. The number of notifications reached 215,280 by mid-October, easily beating the mark of 59,022 cases during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.

Of special concern to the experts is the type of flu seen in Australia - Influenza A (H3N2). H3N2 is a more dominant strain of the flu and can cause more severe illness.

What makes this news worse is that the vaccine used in Australia, the same one used in the United States, was only 10 percent effective in preventing H3N2.

Last week, 33 kids tested positive for the flu at Cook Children’s and 28 of those cases were Flu A.

The article asks whether our current vaccines can be improved, but also stresses that immunization is still our best defense against the flu right now.

“However imperfect, though, current influenza vaccines remain a valuable public health tool, and it is always better to get vaccinated than not to get vaccinated,” the authors of the articles write.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that influenza vaccination averted 40,000 deaths in the United States between the 2005–2006 and 2013–2014 seasons.

Still, the vaccine has a rate of between 50 to 70 percent effectiveness against other strains of the flu and people who are vaccinated generally get a milder and less dangerous form of the illness.

“The vaccine strains are chosen about nine months before flu season, based on circulating strains around the world by epidemiologists who are geniuses and do this for a living,” said Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., medical director of Infectious Diseases . “They are not perfect, but they are very good.”

Even when the vaccine is a perfect match to the influenza virus that a person is exposed to, there are other factors in play. The child or adult who receives the vaccine has to be a “good host” and their immune system has to respond to the vaccine and develop protection.

“This does not always happen if the vaccine recipient has a weak immune system or is on medications that inhibit their ability to respond to the vaccine, or other things we don’t understand yet scientifically,” Dr. Whitworth said. “We do know that thousands of deaths nationally are prevented every year by vaccination against the flu. It is important to note that although the vaccine has known side effects that are similar to all vaccines given, side effects are mild and uncommon. Serious side effects are very rare.”

Even more importantly, Dr. Whitworth stresses a person cannot get the flu from the flu shot. They may feel achy for a day or two but that is very different from being in bed with high fever for a week with true influenza infection.

“The flu season has definitely arrived in the Fort Worth area and the time to get vaccinated is now,” Dr. Whitworth said. “I am vaccinated every year by choice and my adult children choose to be vaccinated yearly also.”

                                          Get to know Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D.

I started in pediatrics for my first rotation of my junior year of medical school. I did it first to get it out of the way because I knew I didn't want to be a pediatrician. But I absolutely loved it and the rest is history.

Children are what make this job so very special to me. They smile and laugh through almost everything.

Away from work I enjoy spending time with my family. I'm also very involved in our church. Learn more about Cook Children's Infectious Diseases Department by clicking here.