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What you need to know about this season’s brutal flu

November 6, 2019

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: The flu season already
seems to be reaching a peak, and, so far, it looks like a more severe season than others
in recent memory. John Yang gets an update on why and what you
need to know. JOHN YANG: This flu season started earlier
than in the past, and the Centers for Disease Control says it is the most widespread outbreak
it has ever seen. Officials say doctor’s visits are climbing,
and pediatric deaths from the flu are up as well, at least 20 so far. The CDC says the flu leads to the deaths of
thousands of Americans each year. To bring us the latest on the current flu
season, we’re joined by Dr. Amber Robins. She’s a family medicine physician at Georgetown
University and the health and media fellow here at the “NewsHour.” Dr. Robins, thanks so much for joining us. DR. AMBER ROBINS: Thank you for having me. JOHN YANG: Why is this season so bad? DR. AMBER ROBINS: This season is bad because,
this year, we’re seeing more people with influenza A. Now, in the past, we have seen a season with
influenza A means that we have more cases of the flu, we have more hospitalizations
and ultimately more deaths because of the flu. And so that is a concern this year, as influenza
A is the predominant flu strand. JOHN YANG: And what makes influenza A so problematic? DR. AMBER ROBINS: Right. It changes so quickly. So, even though we have the vaccine that’s
made several months before the flu season actually begins here in the U.S., the virus
itself changes, that it’s not an exact match to the actual vaccine. So, that is a point of concern. But it is important to know that, even though
that may be the case, if you get a flu vaccine, you are less likely to have hospitalizations. And then, the flu itself, if you do get it
after getting the vaccine, your symptoms are less severe. JOHN YANG: And how effective is this vaccine
this year? DR. AMBER ROBINS: Right. It’s around 32 percent. That’s what experts think for this year, which
is a little less than it has been in previous years. But, again, it’s better to get it than not
get it. It’s better to be covered than not. JOHN YANG: And could this season get even
worse? DR. AMBER ROBINS: It could. The question is, though, where are we in the
flu season? So, like you were saying before, we know that
the flu season started a little bit earlier than it usually does. But the question is, are we at the peak of
this season, or is this a trend that is going upward? So those questions, we still don’t know the
answerers to, until the flu season is over. JOHN YANG: OK, a little practical advice for
people now. When should someone go to the doctor? A lot of people try to tough it out. I see them in the aisles of the drugstores. DR. AMBER ROBINS: Oh, yes. JOHN YANG: When should they decide to go to
the doctor? DR. AMBER ROBINS: Whenever you feel sick, you
should either think about going to the doctor or just call if you have any questions. Symptoms of the flu are fevers, chills, night
sweat, cough, feeling really horrible. And those are also symptoms of a cold, so
it’s really hard to decipher which one is which. And that’s our job, to help you and be able
to treat if we think that it is the flu. JOHN YANG: Is it too late for people to get
a flu shot? DR. AMBER ROBINS: No, not too late at all. You can go to your clinic or you can go to
the local pharmacy and still get a flu vaccine now. And the people who should get it, of course,
it’s people who are the age of six months and above, but then also those who are pregnant,
those who may have some long-term chronic diseases, like heart disease. We also know, for influenza A, those who are
older and younger are the ones who are at more risk of having complications from it. So those are the people that we’re saying,
you definitely, definitely need to get your flu vaccine. JOHN YANG: Two things I hear a lot of people
say: I never get the flu. DR. AMBER ROBINS: Oh, yes. JOHN YANG: So, I’m not going to get a shot. Or, if I get a shot, I’m afraid I’m going
to get the flu. What do you say to those folks? DR. AMBER ROBINS: Right. Well, for the first one that you — people
who say that they have never gotten the flu, I hear so many patients say that they wish
they would have gotten the vaccine once they get the flu. So, I would say, you know, even with your
thoughts of not getting the flu, it’s good to have some protection than no protection. And with the flu being something that we’re
giving you in the flu vaccine, that’s not necessarily true. In the vaccine itself, it’s usually an inactivated
flu virus, meaning that it’s not a living virus. And what that does is, it helps your system
be aware of the flu and what it looks like, so that when you do come in contact with an
active virus, your body knows what to do, and those fighter cells can go ahead and fight
that flu. JOHN YANG: We have heard a lot of talk about
the shortage of antivirals like Tamiflu. Is there — what’s that about? DR. AMBER ROBINS: Right. So, there are some places where it’s hard
to get those antivirals. And, usually, those places are the places
that have a lot of flu cases. But, overall, in the United States, there
is not a shortage. It’s just depending on where you’re trying
to get the medication. So, if you’re in one of those places where
you know that there are a lot of people who have the flu, just calling your pharmacy and
seeing if they have the medication would be helpful. And, again, that medication is good to have
when you’re in the first two days of the virus, because it helps shorten duration of having
the flu, and also it decreases the severity of the symptoms. JOHN YANG: Very good. Dr. Amber Robins, thanks for the house call. DR. AMBER ROBINS: Thank you.

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