13:35 PM

Australia’s Bad Flu Season Serves As Reminder For The Importance of Immunization

With unseasonably warm weather still hovering toward triple digits, most Texans probably aren’t thinking about the cold and flu season that is right around the corner.

However, some early indicators say we could see something we haven’t seen in a while: a potentially severe influenza season.

Clinical experts in the U.S. watch the Southern Hemisphere of the world for signs of what might be in store for us in the north. Flu season in Australia can often be an indication of what’s to come in the U.S. Unfortunately, NBC News reports that Australia is nearing the “end of its worst flu season in five years, according to the latest data from the country’s Department of Health and Aged Care."

Alicia Fry, M.D., the chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the CDC is “very alert for signs of an early and strong flu season in the United States." 

fluAdditionally, Australia’s flu season hit children hard this year. Kids ages 5-9 had the highest rate of flu cases, followed by children 4 and younger and teens.

How effective the flu vaccine is depends on how well experts predict what strains of the flu will be circulating the globe that year.

“The vaccine strains are chosen about nine months before flu season, based on circulating strains from 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.

Jason Terk, M.D., a Cook Children’s pediatrician and a national expert on immunizations, adds his voice to other pediatricians and global health experts who say the flu vaccine remains the best way to prevent influenza.

“The great news about the vaccine is that even when it’s not always a perfect match for prevention, the flu vaccine can reduce the severity of the illness, even if you do catch the flu that season,” Dr. Terk said.

To make an appointment for your child’s flu shot, contact your Cook Children’s pediatrician. The vaccine is currently available in many offices and a second shipment will be delivered next week.

If your child is a patient and staying overnight at Cook Children's Medical Center, they may also receive the vaccine during their stay.

“It takes two weeks for the shot to become most effective. Because flu can hit as early as late October or early November, we recommend getting the flu shot as soon as possible and definitely before the end of October,” said Justin Smith, M.D., a Cook Children’s pediatrician.


Flu Prevention Tips

Along with the vaccine and flu antiviral drugs if prescribed by a doctor, the CDC recommends these everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs:

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

“It’s important for people to take care of themselves and others to prevent the spread of the flu as much as possible,” Dr. Whitworth said. “The flu vaccine continues to be recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older. Make sure to practice washing your hands and please keep your children home if they are sick.”