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Will the 2019/2020 Flu Season Be Terrible?

Experts are predicting that the 2019/2020 flu season may be worse than usual. Consider getting a flu shot and keeping your immune system strong.
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How bad will the 2019/2020 flu season get? Nobody knows for sure, but infectious disease experts say we are off to a rocky start.

The 2019/2020 Flu Season Started Early:

Last year, the flu season lasted 21 weeks. That is how many weeks the proportion of people seeking medical care for influenza-like illness (ILI) was above 2.4 percent of the total. That made last year’s season the longest in a decade. This year, we have already racked up seven weeks at that level. Flu season often lasts through March and sometimes into April. So while we don’t know how long the 2019/2020 flu season will be, the early start could mean it is a long one.

Early Cases Were Mostly Influenza B:

Another unusual feature of the 2019/2020 flu season is that influenza B dominated at the outset. Most winters, the first flu cases are more likely to be one strain or another of influenza A. Then influenza B strains tend to become more common as the winter wanes into spring. Again, we don’t know what lies ahead, but the early prevalence of influenza B is now being overshadowed by various strains of influenza A.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 4.6 million cases of ILI so far this season. More than 39,000 people around the country needed hospital care for their illness and 2,100 people died. Over the past two flu seasons, total deaths have approached 60,000.

How Holiday Travel Could Contribute to the 2019/2020 Flu Season:

Flu spreads readily over the holiday season when people are traveling. Airports are hubs for people trading viruses from a lot of different regions. Even people traveling by car may be exposed to flu viruses when they fill the tank with gasoline, for example.

People are most likely to spread the disease even before they start to feel very ill, within the first few days. This also makes workplaces hothouses for virus exchange. Unless people are encouraged to stay home if they are under the weather, they can easily infect many others at the office. People who work in restaurants or coffee shops may find it especially difficult to take sick time, even though from a public health perspective, they need it most.

What Should You Do?

The CDC wants you to know that it is not too late to get a flu shot. Even though the 2019/2020 flu season started early, you can still get protection from the vaccine. In many places, it is available free of charge. Just make sure the person administering it does it correctly, to avoid prolonged arm soreness. People who are immunized may still get the flu, but they are less likely to need hospitalization. 

Other steps to take include staying away from people who are ill with flu, if you can. Public health experts recommend conscientious hand-washing whenever you must touch things that other people use, such as elevator buttons or the pump handle at the gas station.

Common sense suggests you should make sure to get enough sleep, maintain appropriate humidity in your home and bolster your immune system. How do you do that? Make sure you maintain adequate vitamin D levels, possibly with a daily supplement (BMJ, Feb. 15, 2017). 

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Elderberry is another great supplement to help protect you against infection, according to Dr. Tieraona Low Dog.  A meta-analysis shows that black elderberry is effective against symptoms of upper respiratory infection (Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Feb. 2019).  Consider increasing the amount of onions and garlic in your food, and also contemplate getting Maitake or Shiitake mushrooms in your meals or as supplements. They enhance the immune system (Annals of Translational Medicine, Feb. 2014). A combination of Reishi, Shiitake and Maitake extracts is even more powerful (PLoS One, Nov. 7, 2019).

Prescription Flu Medicines:

Don’t forget, if you do get the flu, stay home and don’t spread it to others. Do get in touch with your doctor, though. Physicians can prescribe antiviral medicines that will help speed recovery and prevent some of the more serious complications of influenza. Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and baloxavir (Xofluza) should both be useful during the 2019/2020 flu season.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Martineau AR et al, "Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: Systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data." BMJ, Feb. 15, 2017. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6583
  • Hawkins J et al, "Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials." Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Feb. 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004
  • Vetvicka V & Vetvickova J, "Immune-enhancing effects of Maitake (Grifola frondosa) and Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) extracts." Annals of Translational Medicine, Feb. 2014. DOI: 10.3978/j.issn.2305-5839.2014.01.05
  • Mallard B et al, "Synergistic immuno-modulatory activity in human macrophages of a medicinal mushroom formulation consisting of Reishi, Shiitake and Maitake." PLoS One, Nov. 7, 2019. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0224740
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I am 52 and have NEVER had a flu shot and have traveled and lived all over the world since birth. I keep my immunity in tip top shape. My husband is an airline pilot and flies international. He has NEVER had the flu shot and is one of the healthiest people I have ever known (since we were age 12). I have had the flu I believe twice in my adult life and I don’t ever remember him having the flu in the last 25 years. It’s all about immunity, which comes from eating healthy and ensuring you are absorbing your vitamins, minerals and pro/prebiotics.

Your recommendation for making sure the shot is given right…..well, how do you do that????

I’m shocked you advise people to get a flu shot. Cochran review has shown the shot to be ineffective and does not in any way decrease hospitalizations. The 60,000 deaths is also misleading as CDC includes all deaths from pneumonia as a flu death. Tamiflu only decreases the symptoms of the flu and only shortens it for 1 day. Why not leave out the misinformation and stick with results: hand washing, humidification, sunshine and elderberry.

Handwashing is necessary, but it may not be sufficient. Flu viruses also travel in airborn particles.

Elderberry extract may be more potent against existing flu than Tamiflu. My husband and I began taking it within a day or two of developing symptoms. The fever and severe aches went away in 2 days. We’re still dealing with slight aches, fever and coughing.

Got the flu shot in September. Contracted Influenza A in mid-November. Maybe the vaccine is ineffective this year.

Thank you for publishing how we can protect ourselves from the 2019-2020 flu. This is most important, since all viral illness is contagious 24-48 hrs prior to the onset of symptom one. We don’t even know when we have been exposed to a flu virus. It’s a risk factor we must accept & take precautions against in the ways you’ve mentioned.

I’m surprised this article didn’t mention how devastating Australia’s flu season was, the numbers of ILI for which medical attention was required, the number of hospitalizations, & the mortality rates (which does include people over 65, while the CDC doesn’t even count mortality in those over 65 in North America’s flu season’s mortality rate statistics).

Interestingly, Australia’s flu season has always been a strong predictor of what North America’s flu season will be like, since their “flu season” begins 6 months prior to North America’s flu season. This is why the WHO delayed their decision for a full month in 2019, until the day before the absolute flu manufacturing deadline for our drug companies (March 2019), to decide on what the final mix of protection from flu strains A & B would be in North America’s flu shots. The WHO also saw all the up to the minute data, indicating a longer flu that’s harder to shake (whether A or B strains), which they knew continued to “morph” through Australia’s flu season. Unfortunately, due to viral “morphing,” despite getting the yearly flu shot, the CDC’s flu vaccine’s effective rates have plummeted, especially in this decade.

I took the flu shot & was diagnosed with type A flu. I thought I was getting a cold so I missed the window of getting Tamiflu. Thankfully,my husband did not catch my bug.

So, are you saying that the flu season, which I guess begins when pharmacies hang out a sign in November, may last this year all the way to April? That would be five months of the whole year! That’s a very long time to be pristine about what we touch, how much we wash our hands, and where we go. I don’t know if this suggestion of getting a flu shot comes from you and your followers’ experiences or from the CDC advisors.

I’m 80, have declined the flu shot for 12 years, ever since I found out that eggs are a medium in which the vaccine is grown, among other questions of additives. We live a healthy lifestyle but can’t possibly cover all bases. I currently have bronchitis, which I haven’t had since l985 and believe I caught it from my husband who takes a daily swim at a nearby University pool. We don’t plan on getting a flu shot this year but will buy and download your booklet for natural means of support.

Older folks, even healthy ones, are especially left in a quandary.

“Just make sure the person administering it does it correctly.” Good thing I’m an expert on that. No, really, please take the time to explain. I don’t think many of your readers would know what to look for.

Explanation with links to an excellent diagram showing the proper location (deltoid muscle):

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