Get your flu shot today.
That’s the advice from Dr. Henning Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County health officer, who warns that flu season will start in November.
And it takes two weeks for your immune system to respond to a vaccine, Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press recently at his office at the county Public Health Department in Santa Barbara.
“If you get the shot, you’re not protected today. You’re protected two weeks from now,” Dr. Ansorg said.
The vaccine is typically covered by insurance and is effective for six months, which covers the length of a typical flu season, Dr. Ansorg said.
The heath officer stressed that people should take the flu seriously. He said Santa Barbara County saw four flu-related deaths, a typical number, in 2018-2019 and 14 in 2017-2018, a more severe season.
“I know the vaccine still prevented a lot of illnesses, even in that year (2017-2018),” he said. “More people would have gotten sick without the vaccine.”
The county health department is helping with vaccinations through free flu shot clinics for anyone 2 and older. They take place 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays at Franklin Elementary School, 1111 E.; Mason St., and another one will be 3 to 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave., Goleta.
In addition, you can get shots at various stores, and Sansum Clinic, the Cottage Health Systems and Marian Community Clinics in Santa Maria all have flu hotlines. (See the FYI box for more details.)
Flu shots are recommended for everyone from six-month-old infants to the elderly, Dr. Ansorg said. “The most vulnerable are children and adults 65 and older and people who have a weakened immune system due to some underlying condition or medication that they have to take.”
He said seniors can get a high-dose vaccine. “Their immune system is generally weaker. They need a little bit more of the vaccine to mount enough protection.”
But if the high-dose version isn’t available, the regular vaccine still helps people regardless of their age, Dr. Ansorg said.
He noted the vaccines are safe. “You cannot get the flu from a flu shot.”
And the vaccine still helps you even if you happen to later get the flu, Dr. Ansorg said. “Usually the symptoms are not as severe. You don’t get as sick as you would have gotten without the shot.”
In fact, a 2017 study showed a flu vaccination can significantly reduce the risk of your child dying from the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
And when you get a flu shot, you’re helping others by not getting the virus and infecting them, Dr. Ansorg said.
“Usually, you’re already contagious before you feel sick. You can already spread the virus. You can carry it without knowing it,” he said.
Dr. Ansorg said the vaccines protect against two Type A strains — H1N1 and H3N2 — and two Type B strains — Victoria and Yamagata. He said the most common one for flu cases is H1N1, especially at the beginning of the season.
Dr. Ansorg said it’s difficult to distinguish the flu from a cold, but noted symptoms typically are fevers, headaches, coughing, running nose and pain. “You’re feeling really sick and are exhausted.”
If you get the flu, act quickly to relieve the symptoms, he said.
Dr. Ansorg said Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate), or another medication, Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil), must be taken with two days after symptoms begin.
Also, stay home, get rest, drink plenty of water and take medication such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen), the health officer said.
He said it can take seven days to recover from the flu and longer for some patients such as those in their 80s or older.
Stay home after seven days if you still have symptoms and remember you’re helping your co-workers or others by not infecting them, Dr. Ansorg said. He advises parents to keep their kids home from school until they’re well.
Dr. Ansorg also recommends everyone wash their hands frequently and not touch their eyes, nose or mouth during flu season.
And, he said, get your flu shot.
“Nationally, 10 million to 50 million people get ill with influenza in the United States every year,” Dr. Ansorg said. “We expect anywhere between 10,000 and 90,000 deaths (nationally) from influenza.”
He noted last winter was milder than usual for the number of flu cases in Santa Barbara County.
Dr. Ansorg pointed to statistics provided by Pacific Diagnostic Laboratories, which works with Cottage Health; Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria; and Lompoc Valley Medical Center in Lompoc. “It’s a good snapshot of the community,” he said.
The numbers showed that 378 people tested positively for the flu. That was almost 10 percent of the 3,828 people tested.
The decline in the number of cases raises the question of whether more people got flu shots. Dr. Ansorg said he doesn’t know if that happened.
“It was probably a less aggressive strain last winter,” he said.
The health officer noted scientists are working on improving flu shots.
“One big thing they’re working on is a vaccine that works for multiple years, so we won’t need a vaccine every year.”