Flu season in 2020 proving tough on children, but you can still get your shot

It's not too late to protect yourself as the Influenza B strain continues to sicken people and send many to hospitals with severe illness.
January 15th, 2020
A sick child on her mom's lap. Flu season in 2020 has been especially hard on children.
Flu season in 2020 has been especially hard on children. Photo: Getty Images.

Flu is striking people throughout Colorado now, with more than 900 hospitalizations and one death of an older adult in Cañon City, but it’s not too late to get your vaccine.

Feel like you have the flu? Get help at home through a Virtual Visit

  • If you suddenly have a fever, chills and cold symptoms, you might have the flu, also known as Influenza and not to be confused with a stomach virus.
  • If you want to skip the trip to your doctor’s office and need some medical help from home, consider a Virtual Visit.
  • Learn more about getting care at home for the flu.
  • Learn more about how to do a Virtual Visit.
  • Remember that anyone in Colorado can do a Virtual Visit.
  • You don’t need to be a UCHealth patient. And you don’t need insurance. You can pay a flat fee instead.

Dr. Michelle Barron, an expert in contagious diseases at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, said it’s been a strange flu season. A strain of flu, Influenza B, has been rampant this year, and it’s been especially hard on children.

“It’s everywhere, and it’s an anomaly,” Barron said.

Typically, she said, a different strain, Influenza A, tends to sicken people from November through February, then Influenza B can surface late in the flu season.

“We don’t usually pay attention to ‘B,’ but it’s here and causing a fair number of hospitalizations. The numbers are on the rise,” Barron said.

“It’s a pretty severe year,” she said.

CDC: flu season

Across the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that nearly 10 million people have become sick with the flu and about 4,800 have died, including 32 children.

A photo of Dr. Michelle Barron
The 2020 flu season has been tough because Influenza B has been rampant. Dr. Michelle Barron says adults and children can still get flu shots. Photo: UCHealth.

In Colorado, so far, no child deaths tied to the flu have been reported, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

But Barron wants to convey a critical message: “It’s not too late to get a flu shot.”

Influenza may continue to sicken people well into the spring.

Flu season 2020: Is flu season over?

This year’s outbreak has been most severe in Adams and Arapahoe Counties in the Denver area, Alamosa and other parts of the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado, Jackson County in northern Colorado and Gunnison and Chaffee Counties in the western part of the state. (Click here to see a map showing hospitalizations in Colorado by county.)

While it takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to fully take effect, people who get their vaccines now can still get protection during a key time.

“We don’t think of the flu as dying down until March or April,” Barron said.

Flu shot effectiveness and prevention

Both children and adults need to get a flu vaccine every year. This year’s flu shot protects against both the Influenza A and B strains. While it’s never perfect because researchers must create a vaccine in advance of the flu season that they hope will be protective of the strains that surface, vaccines can decrease the severity of the illness or shorten the duration.

woman feeling sick and drinking tea
The 2020 flu season has led to nearly 1,000 hospitalizations throughout Colorado. It’s not too late to get your flu shot. Photo: Getty Images.

Prevention, hand washing and good self-care are key to staying healthy, Barron said.

“Get your shot. Cover your cough. Be diligent about washing hands and cleaning surfaces,” she said.

Barron said it’s particularly important to clean areas that many people share.

“You shed flu virus up to three days before you have symptoms. It can be on your hands, then on surfaces. Luckily, we’re past the holidays when you see a lot of group bowls of candy,” Barron said. “But, most of us are indoors. Think about cleaning door knobs and surfaces in common areas.”

Unlike stomach viruses like norovirus – which have also sickened many people in Colorado this winter – hand sanitizers can help prevent the spread of influenza. (Click here to learn why hand sanitizer can’t stop the spread of norovirus.)

People also tend to carry their phones with them everywhere and rarely clean them.

“It’s the subtle things we don’t notice,” she said.

To stay healthy year-round, Barron emphasizes the importance of self-care.

“Stay hydrated. Be good to yourself. Get adequate sleep. Make sure you’re eating good foods.”

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can contribute to overall health. Barron said there’s no evidence that taking Vitamin C can ward off flu or colds, but vitamins won’t cause any harm. Keeping your health top of mind is the best way to start the year off healthy and happy.

“After the holidays, people tend to go into stress mode. Be conscious of your wellness.”

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.