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Posts Tagged ‘deaths from flu’

What Signals the Start of Flu Season?

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One might think that flu season starts with the arrival of vaccine in the local pharmacy or provider’s office.  Others might believe that flu season in the U.S. begins with the first case of lab verified flu.  While flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months,  influenza activity can begin as early as September or October and last as late as May.

The CDC monitors certain key flu indicators (like outpatient visits of influenza-like illness, lab results and reports of flu hospitalizations and deaths). When these indicators rise and remain elevated for a number of consecutive weeks, than “flu season” is said to have begun.

In preparation for flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) kick off their annual flu vaccine campaign each September with a special press conference which emphasizes the importance of flu vaccination.

The reality is that influenza is difficult to predict. No one knows when it will peak, how many people will suffer or die, or even how effective the flu vaccine will be.

However, what experts do know is that the flu is inevitable, yet preventable.  Every year there is suffering, hospitalizations and even deaths, but much of that could be prevented if more people were protected through annual vaccination.  2017 Flu News LBE

 

Flu is a fickle and unpredictable virus. 

This was the message Dr. Bill Schaffner delivered during the news conference last week.  Since 2010, flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S. typically range from 140,000 to 710,000 each year, killing between 12,000 and 56,000 people each year.  While the exact number may differ drastically from year to year, this just highlights how dangerous and unpredictable influenza is.

Now is the ideal time to get a flu shot. You want to be vaccinated weeks before possible exposure, because it can take about two weeks post-vaccination for your body to build the proper immune response from the vaccine.

Everyone should consider flu vaccination – even healthy individuals.

Flu Fact of the Week

The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older.  It not only helps to reduce the risk of flu illness and serious complications for the person getting vaccinated, but it also helps to reduce the amount of flu circulating in the community.  By reducing the incidence of flu, we can help protect those who might be more susceptible to serious flu illness, such as young infants too young to get vaccinated, pregnant women and older individuals who may be more susceptible to flu infection, and individuals with certain medical conditions, like heart disease, asthma and diabetes, who are at increased risk of complications from flu.

Too often people mistakenly believe that if they are healthy they don’t need a flu vaccine.  Or, they don’t realize how dangerous the flu can be and consider it akin to a bad cold.  However, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness with no cure.  Once the virus takes hold, all we can do is treat the symptoms.  While antiviral drugs are recommended to try to lessen symptoms and shorten the time one is stick by a day or two, the reality is that influenza must run it’s course.  This is why Dr. Northrop could do nothing but watch while his otherwise healthy adult sister succumbed to influenza and died.

Why choose vaccination if it can’t guarantee you won’t get flu?  

We often hear people explain that they won’t get a flu shot because it doesn’t guarantee that they won’t get the flu.  While it is true that the flu vaccine isn’t a 100% guarantee, the annual flu vaccine is  typcially about 40-60% effective.  Therefore, getting your annual flu vaccine means you will reduce your chances of getting the flu by 40% to 60% as compared to someone who does not get vaccinated. It also means that flu vaccination can significantly reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization and death (especially among children and older adults).

As an example, last year’s flu vaccine effectiveness was deemed to be approximately 42% effective overall.  While that may not sound overly impressive, it is estimated that flu vaccination last year prevented about 5.4 million cases, 2.7 million flu-related doctor’s visits and 86,000 hospitalizations last season.  But last year only about 46.8% of the U.S. population 6 months and older received a flu vaccine. Now imagine if more people had been vaccinated. The CDC estimates that if overall flu vaccination coverage had been just 5 percentage points higher, another 490,000 illnesses and 7,000 hospitalizations could have been prevented.

What determines flu vaccine effectiveness?  

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The 60/40 Factor and This Year’s Flu Season: It’s Not Over Yet

March 10, 2017 4 comments

It’s March, and while we may be anxious for the arrival of spring, what we’ve seen instead is a whole lot of people sick with flu.  Surveillance data shows that while the flu may have peaked in some areas of the country, flu activity remains elevated throughout most of the U.S.  Since flu season typically extends into April and May, now is the time to remain vigilant and get vaccinated if that is still something you haven’t managed to do.

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Flu surveillance reports indicate that the flu strains that make up this year’s vaccine are a good match to those circulating across the U.S.  The most dominant strain has been the influenza A (H3N2) strain, and the estimated effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing illness caused by that strain has been 43%. However, we’re also seeing cases of influenza B virus, and the vaccine’s estimated effectiveness against that strain is 73%. This amounts to an overall vaccine protection of about 48%.

While some may question, “Why get a flu shot if it doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu?”, the answer is simple. 48% protection is much better than none.

When a vaccinated individual is exposed to flu, they are about half as likely to have to go to the doctor, be hospitalized or even die from the flu as compared to their unvaccinated counterpart.

Sure, the flu vaccine isn’t perfect.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth getting.  

Consider the fact that most everyone wears a seat belt when driving in a car, and yet they’ve only been shown to reduce vehicular injury and death by about 50%.  So if you wouldn’t drive your car without wearing a seatbelt, why would you want to skip a flu shot?

Another reason people often use to explain why they haven’t gotten a flu vaccine is because they’ve never had the flu and they don’t consider it to be dangerous.

The 60/40 factor tells us otherwise.

40:  This is the number of children who’ve died from the flu so far this season.  

While no parent every imagines that their child will die from a preventable disease, we know that 40 children across the nation have died from flu so far this season. And sadly, the season is not over yet.  (Update: as of March 13th the number of pediatric deaths has risen to 48). Most years the average is closer to 100 pediatric flu deaths and as high as 49,000 flu-related deaths among adults.

Since pediatric flu deaths must be reported, as flu112315opposed to adult flu deaths, we tend to see news reports throughout the flu season, such as these: 

While we may never know the specifics of each case, what we do know is that the flu is completely unpredictable.  From season to season, we don’t always know exactly which strain will be most prevalent, which will be most dangerous, and who will suffer, be hospitalized or even die as a result of the flu.

The 60/40 factor in regards to pediatric flu deaths: In a previous season, 60% of pediatric deaths occurred among children who were in a high risk category, while 40% had no chronic health problems.

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Public Health’s March Madness: Flu Activity Remains High

March 18, 2015 3 comments

Even as temperatures climb, daylight extends and the promise of Spring lingers around the corner, the United States is still facing the threat of the flu.

usmap09While influenza activity has begun to decline across the United States in recent weeks, the CDC’s influenza surveillance systems still show elevated activity as we enter the month of March.  Although the average length of a flu season for the past 13 seasons has been 13 weeks, flu activity has been elevated this season for 16 consecutive weeks so far.  As of March 7, 2015 there were still 9 states reporting widespread activity, 29 states reporting regional activity and 11 states reporting local activity. Even though the season started early this year, it is expected to continue for several more weeks and  we can already see that it has been dangerous, deadly and unpredictable this season.

Flu Remains Deadly

As of February 21, 2015, the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza remains above the epidemic threshold and has exceeded that threshold for eight consecutive weeks.  Additionally, seven children have died of influenza between March 1-7, 2015, bringing the total number of flu-associated pediatric deaths reported so far this season to 104.

Death isn’t the Only Detrimental Outcome of Flu

While it’s true that the majority of individuals who suffer with the flu will survive, the CDC also monitors hospitalizations that are associated with influenza infection.  So far this season the most affected age group has been adults 65 years of age and older, and they’ve accounted for more than 60% of reported influenza-associated hospitalizations.  This supports the need for wide-spread vaccination among older individuals and their caregivers, to include nursing home employees and health care workers.  As of February, 21, 2015, the most commonly reported underlying medical conditions among hospitalized adults were cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, and obesity.

Children, especially those under 5  years of age, have the second-highest hospitalization rate this season, with the most commonly reported underlying medical conditions to be asthma, neurologic disorders, and immune suppression. Among hospitalized women of childbearing age, 26% were pregnant. However, while certain medical conditions can increase your risk of complications from influenza, seven percent of adults and 39% of hospitalized children had no identified underlying medical conditions, illustrating the fact that flu can be life-threatening even to a previously healthy individual.

The Flu Came On Early, Strong and With It’s Share of Surprises

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