Gambling on when to get the flu vaccine is a losing bet

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Guessing when the flu season will hit is a bit like playing the lottery, according to an analysis of confirmed cases of the flu in New York state issued by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield conducted a review of state statistics on confirmed cases of the flu for the past four years and found wide variations on when the flu begins to peak. For example, during the 2012-2013 flu season, the virus hit state residents hardest in December and January, and then diminished month-by-month through May. But during the last flu season, the wave of cases hit hardest in February, peaked in March, and ended with the highest number of reported flu cases in years for the months of April and May.

“Some common myths about flu shots revolve around their timing and effectiveness,” said Richard Lockwood, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Many people incorrectly think that once the flu season has started, it’s too late for the vaccination to work. We’ve also heard people incorrectly assume that they should wait until later in the season to get their flu vaccination in order for it to last through May and beyond.”BCBS Excellus_2

According to Lockwood, as long as flu viruses are circulating, people who haven’t been vaccinated are at risk for getting sick. He also stressed that in most cases, getting the vaccine early, including in September, will provide immunity for the entire flu season.

On average, 45,000 New Yorkers get the flu each year. Nationwide, the flu virus causes 200,000 hospitalizations and nearly 24,000 deaths each year, so Lockwood cautions that the flu is not a virus to be considered lightly.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield displayed its findings in the attached graphic illustration, which is being shared with physician offices and pharmacies in the upstate New York regions that the health insurer serves in order to help encourage people to get their flu shots as early as possible. A poster version is available for free download at http://tinyurl.com/ze2l3c5.