At least 20 adults have died in New Hampshire because of complications related to the flu since September. And across the country, this year's flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in years.
Even though the flu season technically started months ago, Dr. Patricia Edwards with Concord Pediatrics says it's still not too late to get vaccinated.
“We’re in the middle of our peak – we still have some flu season to go,” says Edwards, who recently penned a column for The Concord Monitor explaining common misconceptions about the flu. “It probably will be going right through March. Getting protected now, if you haven’t gotten the flu, is a good idea.”
Edwards says it’s important to keep in mind that getting a flu vaccine isn’t just about protecting yourself against the virus, it’s also about protecting others around you who might have weaker immune systems — whether you’re at work, running errands, or otherwise.
“Wherever you go, if you have the flu, you could be spreading it. You could be in Shaw’s and touch the cart and get flu germs on it, and then a little child sits in that seat and touches the handles,” Edwards said.
Elsewhere, Joanne Rainville with the Tamworth Community Nurse Association says her group is dealing with a “double whammy” of the flu and another respiratory illness afflicting patients in their community.
The TCNA has offered flu shots for years, and Rainville says she thought she was being conservative by only ordering 100 doses of this year’s vaccine. But in the middle of one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory, she’s stunned to still have about a fifth of that stock leftover — and not for lack of trying to get the word out.
“We even ran a forum here looking at the 1918 flu and what happened to people and why it happened and how it spread, and then offered flu shots after that,” Rainville said. “We thought, sure, that would get us a few.
She’s not quite sure what the reluctance is, but she thinks it has something to do with a statistic that’s been floating around in news reports, suggesting this year’s shot was only 10 percent effective.
“I think it made people say why should I bother to get it if it’s only 10 percent effective? Well, if you’re one of the 10 percent it helps, you know the answer to that,” she said.
Experts have warned against taking that “10 percent effective” statistic at face value. For one, it only measures a single strain — and there are often multiple ones floating around in any given year. Experts also stress that even though it is still possible to get the flu while vaccinated, it’s less likely to lead to serious or life-threatening complications.
In Tamworth, Rainville says her group will keep offering flu shots to anyone who wants them, as long as supplies last. A list of other community organizations offering the vaccine can be found here.