By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Flu vaccines are only as good as their match and this year, the match is good.

“I would expect that the vaccine will perform better this year than last year, when the efficacy rates were under 20 percent, which is much lower than the historical average of 60 or 70 percent,” says AGH internist, Dr. Marc Itskowitz.

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While experts can predict the vaccine’s fit, it’s harder to predict the season. Some are saying it will be milder, but that’s based on limited information.

“They’re talking about the total number of cases and the potential illness and death associated with the flu,” explains Dr. Itskowitz. “That’s primarily based on a small sample of circulating viruses that seem to match this year’s flu vaccine.”

And, as in years past, the flu doesn’t always follow its forecast.

“With flu you can never quite be sure because there’s a lot of mutation in the virus,” says Dr. Kristen Mertz of the Allegheny County Health Department.

“One thing we’ve learned about the flu is that it’s unpredictable. And season to season variation can be significant,” Dr. Itskowitz adds.

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This year may be the exception.

“The strains that have been circulating are the same that were circulating last winter. So we think the vaccine is a good match,” says Dr. Mertz.

Even with the potential for change, a flu vaccine — whether it’s a shot, double dose, or nasal — even this early, is still your best bet for prevention.

“There are some old studies that suggest that October or November may be a better time, but in general we just encourage everyone to get the vaccine even starting as early as September,” says Dr. Itskowitz.

“We always worry that not enough people will get vaccinated. I think nationally about 50 percent of the population get vaccinated, and we really like to see it much higher,” says Dr. Mertz.

Last year, more than 5,000 people had the flu in Allegheny County, 760 were hospitalized and 25 died.

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