A year ago, the world was grappling with the first global influenza pandemic of the 21st century.
Local health agencies were overwhelmed by those needing to be inoculated against the H1N1 flu, which ended up sickening millions worldwide and killing more than 9,000 people in the U.S. alone.
This year, flu is so rarely mentioned that Orange County Medical Director of Epidemiology Dr. Hildy Meyers is concerned people may skip their annual flu shot.
“We’re kind of worried that people have influenza fatigue” after all of the attention given to H1N1 last year, Meyers said. “The message really is get vaccinated now.”
Each year the flu vaccine is designed to prevent the strains of influenza that seem most likely to occur. This year, that means three strains are covered by the shot, AH3, Influenza B and H1N1 or “swine flu.”
In a change from past policies, Meyers said, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends annual flu vaccinations for everyone over the age of 6 months.
The companies that manufacture the vaccines are producing enough to cover nearly everyone, as opposed to in the past, when vaccinations generally were made available only to those most likely to become seriously ill.
Another reason why the CDC is now recommending that everyone over 6-months-old get a flu shot is that health experts are growing more concerned that the public is becoming confused by the increased number of at-risk categories, Meyers said.
Their growing list of people vulnerable to the flu included very young children, pregnant women, anyone over 65 and those with a variety of health problems that could make a flu attack a serious health hazard.
“The message was getting complicated,” she said. Urging everyone to get the shot is a “simpler, more effective message,” and “you’re protecting people around you by getting it.”
In general, the state doesn’t require county health departments to report the number of flu cases except in unusual circumstances, like last year’s H1N1 outbreak. But overall, local health officials said, flu cases in Orange County this year are at low levels.
The H1N1 outbreak began in the small community of La Gloria in Veracruz, Mexico, and spread worldwide within months. It was the first influenza pandemic since the 1968 outbreak of Hong Kong flu, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
The outbreak was so severe that vaccine suppliers couldn’t meet demand and a large proportion of the population was unable to get their flu shots.
You can track national flu outbreaks at the CDC website.