Knowing that the flu vaccine was not as effective this year as it has been in past years, physicians knew that the best preventive measure was to continue to educate the public on simple things they could do to protect themselves, such as getting vaccinated and washing your hands.
“There were clear indicators that the flu season was going to get worse, particularly when the virus mutated and made this year’s flu vaccine less effective,” said Karen Rizzo, MD, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED), in a news release.
Typically, the flu vaccine is 70-80 percent effective, but this year that number is only 23 percent according to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“That essentially meant we needed to educate the public on the situation, and provide some simple things they could do to protect themselves in addition to getting the flu shot,” said Dr. Rizzo. PAMED held a media call-in on Dec. 22 to help educate the public, and Dr. Rizzo was one of the panelists.
The increased education could be one reason for the drop in reported flu cases. According to statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, reported flu cases in Pennsylvania decreased for a second week in a row after peaking between the Christmas and New Year holidays.
But, despite the good news, Dr. Rizzo encourages everyone to continue to practice simple preventive measures.
So, how can people protect themselves from the flu? Teaming up with the Pennsylvania Academy of Emergency Physicians, the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of pediatrics, and infectious disease and family medicine specialists, PAMED’s panel of health care professionals recommend patients:
- Continue to get the flu shot as some protection is better than none, and even if you do get the flu, it is likely to be less severe if you’ve gotten the shot.
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Stay home. Don’t go to work if you are sick and keep your children home from school if they show signs of being sick.
- Avoid shaking hands when possible.
- Consider using a flu mask if you are caring for someone who is sick. Masks can be purchased at pharmacies or through medical equipment stores.
“Even though we’ve had a couple of weeks of declining reports, we may not be out of the woods,” said Dr. Rizzo. “The flu season isn’t over yet, and all of us need to continue to protect ourselves and our communities.”
More information and resources on the flu can be found on the CDC’s website.