Be warned: this could be a difficult flu season.
The warning signs are coming from Down Under where Australia has already had a rough year with the H3N2 virus being the predominant strain. What happens in the Southern Hemisphere typically migrates northward during our winter.
So far, flu activity has been low across the United States, including Texas. But it’s still early in the flu season, which typically peaks anywhere from late November through March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It is supposed to be a bad season and the strain that is out there is being targeted by the flu vaccine this year,” said Jerry Leverett, a pharmacist with Perrone Pharmacy in Fort Worth who got his shot Tuesday. “That is not always true.”
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Bad as the flu season may be, the good news is that those with health insurance can find free or low-cost shots.
“Most of the insurance companies are paying for it,” Leverett said.
And many of the big retailers are competing for your business.
Walgreens, CVS and Wal-Mart are advertising flu shots with $0 co-pay if you have insurance. CVS is also offering a $5 coupon with its flu shots. That includes CVS pharmacies inside Target stores and at its MinuteClinics.
At Alberstons and Tom Thumb grocery stores, customers who get a flu shot can get 10 percent off of their grocery purchase.
For those without insurance, Wal-Mart lists the cost for a four-strain (quadrivalent) flu shot at $39.84.
Besides the affordability, flu shots are easy. There’s no need to get an appointment at a pharmacy and, depending on the time of day, there’s rarely much of a wait.
Even though the flu shots are free or inexpensive, don’t think the pharmacies aren’t getting paid.
Insurers reimburse pharmacists for both the cost of the vaccine and for giving the shot, according to an article in The Palm Beach Post. The article quotes Manny Oliverez, chief executive of Capture Billing & Consulting, a medical billing firm in Virginia, as saying his typical reimbursement is $19 for the vaccine and $24 for the injection, a total of $43.
Health officials suggest everyone should get a flu shot, but especially young children, adults 65 and older and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
“Older adults need to get the high-dose flu vaccine,” said Russell Jones, chief epidemiologist for Tarrant County Public Health. “As we get older, our immune system declines. This gets the immune system to react, but it’s only recommended for people age 65 and older.”
Getting a flu shot each year can also build up your resistance to other strains if the virus unexpectedly drifts, Jones said.
From 2005-16, the flu shot’s effectiveness has varied from a low of 10 percent to a high of 60 percent. But even in bad years, it can help prevent a person from getting sicker. A 2017 CDC study showed that the vaccine reduced deaths among hospitalized patients.
The CDC recommends getting the flu shot by the end of October but advises that it can still be effective in January or later.
So why does the flu shot sting for some people while others feel nothing?
“It’s always been the case,” said Leverett, the pharmacist. “It’s just a reaction some people have. It just depends on the individual.”
What’s new with the flu
Shots are the recommended treatment for 2017-18, but not the the nasal spray flu vaccine (LAIV).
Pregnant women are allowed to receive any licensed, recommended and age-appropriate flu vaccine.
Two new quadrivalent (four-component) flu vaccines have been licensed: one inactivated influenza vaccine (“Afluria Quadrivalent” IIV) and one recombinant influenza vaccine (“Flublok Qudrivalent” RIV).
The age recommendation for “flulaval quadrivalent” has been changed from 3 years old and older to 6 months and older.
Flu vs. cold
Flu symptoms include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. The flu can cause serious health problems.
Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention