Friday, January 26, 2018

Get Ready mailbag: Is this season’s flu shot effective?

By Sean Locke, courtesy iStockphoto
Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, when we take time to answer questions sent our way by readers like you. Have a question you want answered? Send an email to

Does the flu shot work this year? Should I even get it?
Thanks for your question! With this flu season shaping up to be a doozy, there’s a lot of attention on vaccination. In short: Yes, you should get your flu shot. Now, the long answer.

How well the flu shot works varies from season to season. One reason is that officials try to predict way ahead of time what flu strains will be out there during flu season. Then they make a vaccine that targets those strains. But that estimate doesn’t always match up with what really happens.

 This season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that flu shot effectiveness will be about the same as last season, when it was 39 percent effective. If you’re saying “Whoa, that’s low. Should I even bother?” Again, the answer is yes.

That’s because even if the flu shot isn’t an exact match to the strains out there, getting vaccinated makes you a lot less sick if you do get the flu. Research shows that getting the shot means fewer people being hospitalized from the flu. And a study last year found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of healthy kids dying from flu by 65 percent.

(Side note: You may have heard people saying the flu shot is only 10 percent effective this year, which isn’t completely true. Research in Australia found that the flu shot used there was 10 percent effective against one particular strain, known as H3N2. It’s not known why that happened there. But again, that’s not a reason not to be vaccinated. The flu shot protects against other strains as well.)

As to whether you still can and should get your flu shot, it’s another big yes. It’s not too late. With flu so widespread right now, vaccination makes sense, even with the two weeks it takes for antibodies to take effect.

And don’t forget: Flu vaccination is about more than just you. When you get your flu shot, you’re protecting people around you. Babies, young kids, seniors and people whose immune systems are weakened from conditions like cancer or HIV are at higher risk for flu. Getting your flu shot can help keep other people around you healthy, too.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Have a few minutes? Help us track the flu

Flu Near You tracks influenza-like illness based on self-reports from its users. The rate of influenza-like illness has risen among Americans in recent months.

Today’s guest blog post is by John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and director of HealthMap.

If you can spare a few minutes each week, you can become a disease detective and help scientists track flu.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are hospitalized due to flu and complications stemming from the disease. Anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people die annually.

As you may already know, we're currently in the midst of a particularly severe flu season. Last week, the rate of Americans being hospitalized for flu nearly doubled. Flu Near You is a citizen science project developed by HealthMap of Boston Children’s Hospital and Ending Pandemics, in partnership with APHA.

Each week, we ask volunteers if they’ve experienced any of 10 symptoms that could indicate the spread of flu. Reminders come via push notifications to your mobile phone or through email. It only takes a few seconds to complete each week. All reports collected are completely anonymous.

Across the U.S., doctors and epidemiologists employed by state and local health departments work tirelessly alongside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track the spread of flu in order to plan for the use of vaccines and antiviral medications, staff up hospitals and clinics and identify when changes in the virus occur.

Flu Near You supports these efforts by freely sharing anonymized data with many state and local health departments as well as CDC. These data help to track influenza spread at the community level and ensure that doctors and hospitals have the resources they need to help those who fall ill.

Can you spare a few minutes to report your health this week?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Think you might have the flu? Our new Get Ready graphic can help

Ah-choo! Oh, no! Am I getting sick? Is it the flu?

Spot your symptoms this flu season with Get Ready’s quick and simple flowchart graphic. 
You can trace your symptoms to help determine if you’ve got the flu, and then learn what to do.

Share this infographic with your friends, family, neighbors and classmates to help them be a little more prepared this flu season.

If you have flu symptoms and they continue to get worse, you should see a doctor. Whether or not you have the flu, it’s important to get a flu shot every year and wash your hands with soap and water.

For even more flu-fighting tips, check our flu and hand-washing fact sheets.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Enjoying the winter weather? Watch out for hypothermia and frostbite

Winter can be wonderful: Think hot chocolate, cozy fires and fuzzy socks. But the freezing cold weather? Not so wonderful. Just ask folks on the East Coast this week.

In fact, researchers found last year that even in Texas, which is not known for its harsh winters, cold weather increases risk of death. The risk is especially high for people with heart conditions or breathing problems.

The reason cold weather is dangerous is because when the temperature drops, your body has to work harder to keep your blood circulating and maintain a healthy body temp.

One way cold weather can cause serious health problems is through hypothermia. It’s caused by long exposures to really cold temperatures. Your body begins to lose heat fast and you use up your stored energy.

If you’re out in cold weather, watch out for shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, fumbling of your hands and drowsiness. If you notice these signs, check your temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, get medical help right away, as it’s an emergency.

Frostbite is another serious risk when you’re outside in the cold. It happens when parts of your body — usually fingers, nose or toes — become so cold that blood can’t flow to them. Watch out for white or grayish-yellow skin, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy or numbness.

The best way to avoid hypothermia and frostbite is to wear lots of layers, hats, gloves and water-resistant shoes when you go outside in cold weather. This is especially important for seniors, people with heart or circulation problems, young children and anyone who will be outside in the cold for a long time.

All this doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in winter weather. Snowball fights, ice skating and snow angels are irresistible. Just be sure to play it safe when you’re out there.

For more tips for staying safe this winter, check out Get Ready’s Winter Ready page, with free fact sheets you can share. And take a look at this great graphic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.