Should you still get a flu shot this year?

A milder strain of the flu, influenza ‘B,’ is making flu season a breeze in California this year. Should you still get a shot?

Flu season this year in California has been much milder than usual, and scientists think a new strain of influenza could be to thank. According to a report from the Los Angeles Times, experts believe that a number of factors, including effective vaccines and favorable weather, have led to the unusually low number of flu cases this year.

Despite the low number of cases so far, flu season isn’t over yet. According to Dr. Robert Schechter, a medical officer from the immunization branch of the California Department of Public Health, “In the middle of it all, it’s hard to know where we are: whether we’re in the eye of the storm of the storm has passed.”

Flu season can last from early winter through May, but the past three flu seasons have peaked in December. Typically, the expected flu season peak is sometime during February.

Despite the low number of cases this year, flu season has not been without casualties. Since October, 16 people in California under the age of 65 have died from the flu, compared to 29 deaths last year and 243 two years ago.

While a number of different factors could be contributing to this year’s mild flu season, experts have also suggested that a different type of the disease, the Influenza B strain, is playing a key part in the reduction in reported cases.

Both influenza A and B strains are transmitted during flu season, but symptoms caused by the B strain are typically much less severe. So far this year, 45 percent of flu cases in California are due to influenza B, compared with just 6 percent last year and 7 the year before.

The trend in California mirrors that of the country as a whole. 32 percent of American flu cases reported this year were caused by influenza B, compared to 6 and 9 percent over the past two years.

So does this mean that you can skip on the flu shot this year? While the likelihood of contracting the deadlier influenza A strain is lower than it has been in recent years, it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to preventive care.

A report from the California Department of Public Health describing the most recent influenza data collected in the state can be found here.

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