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Is This Season’s Flu More Severe Than Usual or Just Highly Active?

January 13, 2018 10 comments

At this point in the flu season people often wonder if all the media hype is part of an orchestrated effort to panic people about flu, or if it is really signaling serious concern.

There are lots of flu stories in the news these days.  From reports of  74 Californian’s who’ve died from flu – five times the number seen at this point last year – to 13 school districts in TX closing due to the high number of flu cases among students, we’re left to wonder….

Is this year’s flu season more severe than usual or just highly active at the moment?

A recent CDC media briefing has helped clarify the following concerns regarding the latest flu activity in the U.S.: 

Right now, flu is widespread everywhere.  

One of the most notable differences between this season and others is in relation to the geographic spread of flu. This is the first time over the course of 13 years of surveillance data that the entire nation is experiencing widespread flu at the exact same time, as can be noted by the color of CDC’s flu surveillance map below.

FluWeeklyReportActivity is severe right now.

 

One of the ways the CDC tracks influenza activity is to record the number of lab confirmed cases of flu and hospitalizations by week. What they’ve noted is a very rapid increase in the number of people seeing their healthcare providers for flu diagnosis, along with a rapid rise in the numbers of people being hospitalized with lab confirmed flu. For instance, this week’s surveillance data indicates that there’s been 22.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the U.S., which is up considerably from the 13.7 number recorded last week.

So far this season, influenza A (H3N2), has been the most prevalent strain in circulation. Unfortunately, historically it is often the strain linked to more severe illness, especially among children and older individuals above the age of 65. Interestingly enough, the current flu surveillance observations seem to be in line with two more previous H3N2 dominant seasons; the 2014-2015 and 2012-2013 seasons.WHOPHL02_small

Additionally the hospitalizations so far this season seem to be in line with other H3N2 predominant seasons, with the highest rates among those over the age of 65, those between 50-64, and children under 5 years of age.

Flu can cause mild disease in some, but severe disease and death in others.

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Sadly, there have been as many as 30 pediatric deaths so far this season. While children are at great risk, there are plenty of reports of otherwise healthy adults who have been hospitalized or died from flu this season.

Peak season may have started early, but there are many more weeks to go.

Speaking to the media on behalf of the CDC on Friday, Dr.  Jernigan explained,

“If we look at the timing of the season, even if we have hit the top of the curve or the peak of the seasonal activity, it still means we have a lot more flu to go.”

He went on to suggest that there will likely be at least 11 to 13 more weeks of elevated influenza activity this season, before activity begins to subside. Even though it can take about two weeks for protection from vaccination to set in, Dr. Jernigan explained that we still have a lot of flu season to get through and that vaccination efforts should continue as long as influenza viruses are circulating.

While we are seeing a lot of H3N2 circulating now, we are also seeing H1N1 show up in states that have already had H3N2 activity. And we know that B viruses also tend to show up later in the season. Each of these strains are covered in the vaccine, so flu vaccination now can still help to prevent, or lessen the severity of flu throughout the remainder of the season.

Vaccination is our best defense.  

While flu vaccination is far from perfect, it remains our best defense. Not only can it help prevent flu, but it can also help lessen the severity of symptoms if a vaccinated person does end up getting infected.  This can reduce the chances of an individual being hospitalized or dying from flu.

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In fact, a recent study showed that influenza vaccination reduced the risk of flu-associated death by 65% among healthy children and by 51% among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions. Another study indicated that many older adults benefit from repeated flu vaccination. When getting vaccinated in both the current and previous seasons, the study found flu vaccination was 74% effective in preventing ICU admissions in older individuals and 70% effective in preventing deaths among older adults.

Manufacturers are reporting that they’ve shipped more than 151 million doses of flu vaccine this season, so there shouldn’t be a problem finding a flu vaccine in your area.  Simply refer to the flu vaccine finder for assistance.

We won’t know preliminary flu vaccine effectiveness until February.  

Read more…

Most Popular Posts of 2017 Address Flu, Vaccine Safety, Disease Outbreaks and Maternal Vaccines

December 27, 2017 Leave a comment

As we look back at the success of the Shot of Prevention blog this past year, we’re especially grateful to our blog readers, contributors and subscribers.

Whether you’ve shared a post, shared your story, or shared your expertise, we recognize that our growth and success would not have been possible without your support. Thanks to you, our posts are helping people to make important immunization decisions for themselves and their families.

In these final days of 2017, we hope that you will revisit the top ten posts from the past year and share them with others in your social networks.  

1)  3 Things I’ve Learned Since Losing My Son To Flu

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It’s been eight years since Serese Marotta of Families Fighting Flu lost her five-year-old son, Joseph, to the flu. She’s not the same person she was eight years ago. Today, she sees things through a different lens as a bereaved parent. Losing a child is devastating, but she feels a responsibility to pass on some of the lessons she’s learned through her personal tragedy, which she does in her article here.

 

2)  10 Things Parents Who Don’t Vaccinate Their Kids Should Know

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In some cases, children who have suffered with a preventable disease were unvaccinated.  This could be the result of parents who did not have access to certain vaccines, parents who willfully refused a particular vaccine, or it could because they were too young to be fully vaccinated. After Riley Hughes passed away in the arms of his parents when he was just 32 days old, his parents made it their mission to educate people about the dangers of whooping cough, and promote the need for vaccination. In a plea to parents who still choose not to vaccinate, Riley’s mom posted the following list of “things to know” here.

 

3)  Even With All Our Modern Medicine I Watched My Sister Die From Flu

lizaLiza was healthy and only 49 years old when she contracted flu. She sought medical care early. She was cared for at a good hospital in a major city.  She had no other infections. And she was unvaccinated. To say that her death was a surprise to her brother is an understatement.  And yet her brother, Dr. Michael Northrop is a pediatric intensive care physician. His story traces the clinical course of Liza’s illness, and expresses the grief he felt as he helplessly watched his sister  succumbs to an illness that even modern medicine can’t always save us from. To read his story, click here.

 

4) Take It From This Mom, The Flu Is No Joke

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After her four-year old daughter is rushed to the emergency room, she writes a warning to others.  “The words just the flu need to be eradicated from our lexicon. Because this? This is the flu. There’s no ‘just’ about this. It was terrifying. It was the most helpless I’ve ever felt as a mommy. And it was potentially deadly.  All because I was too busy to get our flu shots.” Read the full story here.

 

5) Flu Vaccine Benefits Go Beyond Effectiveness of One Strain

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Amid speculation about how effective the flu vaccine will be this year, Dr. LJ Tan addresses some of the public’s most prominent concerns. He starts with a basic explanation of flu and flu vaccines, discusses the factors that play into vaccine effectiveness, and addresses rumors about this year’s flu vaccines. To gain a better understanding, read more here.

 

6) How My Sister Helped Save My Daughter From Whooping Cough

As a Medical Director responsible for Community Health and Prevention at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah, Tamara Sheffield is a huge advocate for SOTI_Pertussis_FBimmunizations. She is especially appreciative of maternal immunizations, which she considers one of today’s most promising new preventive health strategies. But her reasons go beyond her professional understanding of how maternal flu and Tdap vaccines pass on protective antibodies to newborns. Her surprising story ends with a twist involving her own daughter who nearly died from whooping cough when she was just three weeks old. Read it here.

 

7) Multiple Vaccine Oversight Committees Ensure Our Public Safety

While 2017 brought a lot of uncertainty about health services in this country, Dr. Dorit Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law, explains 178_NFID_Vaccine_Safety_infograms_2_FINALwhy the public should remain confident in vaccine safety. In this post she reviews the specific ways in which vaccine safety is regulated in the U.S., and the oversight committees that monitor vaccines pre and post licensure. Her scrutiny explains that it would be hard to hide a problem if one existed, and that when problems do occur, they are quickly discovered and addressed. To learn more about vaccine safety oversight, read the full post here.

 

8) Why Should Vaccinated Individuals Worry About Measles Outbreaks

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With various measles outbreaks reported across the U.S. and the world in 2017, it’s important to understand why vaccinated individuals should be concerned. Many people mistakenly think that vaccinated individuals are not at risk during outbreaks. However, when it comes to infectious diseases like measles, one person’s decision not to vaccinate can negatively impact the health of others and this post explains how.

 

9) Five Things I’ve Learned About Vaccines Through 21 Years of Parenting

HowHerdImmunityWorksWe’ve all received plenty of unsolicited advice about how to care for our children. However, when making health decision for our families we should rely on evidence based research and credible information from reputable sources. In this post, I share five of the most important things I’ve learned about vaccines through my journey as a parent and immunization blogger. Spoiler alert: it begins with science and it ends with action.

 

10) Five Things Expectant Parents Need to Know About Vaccines in Pregnancy

SOTI-PregnancyCoverFBWhile well-meaning friends and family will provide a constant stream of advice on what to do and what to avoid while pregnant, all this information can be overwhelming. Expectant couples should rely on credible medical sources such as the CDC, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the American College of Nurse Midwives. This blog post reviews the 5 things these trusted organizations say about the flu and Tdap vaccines routinely recommended during pregnancy. Learn more here.

 

We hope you have found our content to be engaging and informative.  We have exciting changes planned for Shot of Prevention in 2018 in hopes of engaging even more people in these important immunization conversations in the years to come.  

If you have suggestions for topics you would like us to address in 2018, or you would like to contribute a guest post for publication, please email shotofprevention@gmail.com.

Also, if you want to receive important immunization news and join in our online discussions, be sure to “Like” our Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page, follow our @ShotofPrev Twitter feed and subscribe to Shot of Prevention by clicking the link on the top right of this page.

Thanks again for your continued support and best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!

Flu Vaccination is a Team Sport

November 10, 2017 Leave a comment
This week, as we wrap up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Flu Blog-a-thon, we hear from Serese Marotta of Families Fighting Flu about how we all pay a role in flu prevention.

Most people know that the flu is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable disease. What they don’t always realize is that flu prevention is a team sport.

It’s great when individuals get vaccinated. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone six months and older.  But flu vaccination is not just about us as individuals. Healthy communities rely on cooperation and coordination of everyone – from family members to healthcare professionals. 

Flu is worth preventing.  

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  • According to the CDC, every year in the United States, the flu kills upwards of 56,000 people, which typically includes about 100 children. That’s more than all other vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • The CDC estimates that since 2010, hospitalizations due to flu ranged from approximately 140,000 to 710,000 cases per year, with hospitalizations of children five years of age and younger ranging from 7,000 to 26,000 cases per year.

Flu vaccination is critical to keeping our communities healthy. 

According to a recent study, the flu vaccine was found to prevent death in otherwise healthy children by as much as 65 percent. Also, it can reduce the risk of flu illness for the general population by up to 60 percent when the vaccine is well-matched to circulating strains.

The “community immunity” that is achieved when large numbers of a population vaccinate is particularly important. People in high-risk groups such as babies younger than 6 months old who are too young to receive a flu vaccination, people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women, are not only more susceptible to suffering with flu, but also more likely to suffer complications if they fall victim to flu.

We all play a role on the flu prevention team. 

Parents

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Children are often the “spreaders” of germs in their communities, which may explain why children have the highest rate of infection from flu. On average, children miss more than 38 million school days due to flu in the U.S., which can result in medical expenses and time off from work for parents. Young children are also at higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu, including hospitalization and death. Since parents are responsible for vaccinating themselves and their children against flu, they can be considered the “Captains” of our flu prevention team. 

 

Healthcare Professionals

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Research shows that a strong recommendation for annual flu vaccination from healthcare professionals is an important factor to improving vaccination rates. Most adults believe in the importance of vaccination, but sometimes need an annual reminder to actually do it. 

That’s why Families Fighting Flu has developed a new educational resource for healthcare professionals in collaboration with the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and HealthyWomen. Through this collaboration entitled Do You Know the Flu?, we are arming healthcare professionals with the resources they need to effectively communicate the importance of flu vaccination to patients of all ages.

School Nurses and Teachers

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Studies have shown that high vaccination rates among school children (50 to 70%) can dramatically reduce the overall burden of disease in the entire community. Families Fighting Flu recognizes the role that school nurses and teachers play in educating school-aged children and their families. This is why we’ve developed our Keep Flu out of School program. By collaborating with the CDC, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and the National Association of School Nurses, Families Fighting Flu has worked closely with a team of professionals to provide critical resources to school nurses and teachers to assist them with flu prevention efforts in their communities.

Co-Workers

Flu is not only a public health issue, but also an economic one. Flu costs the U.S. economy an estimated $10.4 billion every year. According to a recent survey released in October, roughly three out of five Americans (61%) who had the flu or flu-like symptoms admitted to leaving home while ill, which can put others at risk. It’s no doubt that many of us have experienced a sick co-worker at the office who should have stayed home, but instead is now exposing others to flu.

Teammates 

Teamwork is critical to the success of any sports team. Because team mates spend a great deal of time together, it’s not uncommon to hear about professional or collegiate sports teams that have all fallen victim to the flu during important play-off games. That’s why it’s important for athletes to get an annual flu vaccination in an effort to stay healthy and Stay in the Game™.

While we each make a personal decision about flu vaccination, it is our hope that people will recognize that a choice not to get a flu vaccine could have a profound impact on our own health, as well as the health of our families, classmates, coworkers and teammates.

While there is a “U” in flu, there is no “I” in “team”. 

Vaccinate Your Family and Families Fighting Flu are two members of the national team of flu vaccination advocates. Together, we encourage all individuals six months of age and older to get their annual flu vaccination stop that you can Stay in the Game™.

For more information, visit the Families Fighting Flu website at www.familiesfightingflu.org.

101 Empty Chairs

June 23, 2017 1 comment

By Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer, Families Fighting Flu

Sadly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that the 2016/2017 flu season has now claimed the lives of more than 100 children. 101 to be exact.  This statistic is hauntingly familiar – three of the past five flu seasons also claimed the lives of more than 100 children.

101 Pediatric Flu Deaths

Sometimes we forget what these numbers really mean.

It means that 101 families had to bury their beloved children; 101 families have to listen to the deafening sound of silence left by their lost loved ones; and 101 families now have empty chairs at their dinner tables every night.

I paint this picture because I know how these families feel. They’re probably thinking the same thing I did after my son died from the flu – how did this happen and what could I have done to prevent it? 

Unfortunately, unless flu has personally touched your family like it has mine, chances are you’re not all that worried about flu.  You may even think it’s just a bad cold. Well, as the mother of a child who lost her five-year old son to flu, I’m here to tell you, “Not so“.

According to the CDC, flu kills more Americans every year – up to 56,000 people – than any other vaccine-preventable disease.  Since 2004, when the CDC started reporting pediatric flu deaths, 1,466 children – many of whom were otherwise healthy – have lost their lives to flu.

Flu is that infectious disease that seems to fly under the radar. While everyone is focused on the latest outbreak of measles, mumps, pertussis or meningitis, flu is that one disease that we know we will have an outbreak of each and every year.  As prevalent as flu is, it still manages to creep up like a quiet thief in the night, stealing our loved ones right out from under our noses.  And yet when it does, we wonder why we never saw it coming.  Flu has killed millions of people worldwide – and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

So what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from influenza each year?  Annual vaccination.

Studies show that flu vaccination can reduce the likelihood of death and hospitalization from flu in people of all ages.  Yet, less than half of Americans get their annual flu vaccine.   Read more…

Even With All Our Modern Medicine, I Watched My Sister Die From Flu

February 1, 2017 8 comments

By Michael Northrop, M.D.

 

lizaIn December, 2009 my sister Liza died of influenza.

She was previously healthy and only 49 years old.  She sought medical care early. She was cared for at a good hospital in a major city.  She had no other infections. And she was unvaccinated.

To say I was surprised is an understatement.  And yet, I’m a pediatric intensive care physician.

As a clinician, it’s easy for me to trace out the clinical course of Liza’s illness. The physiology of organ failure, mechanical ventilation and critical illness are familiar to me in the same way that your daily work is to you. It’s the human side that I still haven’t come to terms with. The part where you watch your sister die over the course of three long weeks while you stand helpless.  The part where you listen to a physician tell your family that they are out of options.  The part where you know that they are right and you realize that influenza is sometimes too much to handle, even with all our modern medicine.

That part is much harder to process.

Her symptoms started with fever, but progressed to vomiting after a few days. She went to the urgent care clinic twice over the course of a few days before ending up in the emergency department of the local hospital.  She had begun to experience difficulty breathing, and the emergency physician noted that the oxygen saturation in her blood was very low.  They put her on oxygen, and an x-ray revealed that both her lungs were filled with fluid. A condition that led to her being diagnosed with pneumonia.

You see, your lungs are supposed to have air in them. They should look like sponges. Pneumonia is just the term we physicians use to describe the situation when fluid, infection, and inflammation fill those little air spaces in the sponge.

Pneumonia can come from viruses or bacteria. If your pneumonia is caused by a bacteria, you can get antibiotics to kill the bacteria.  However, if your pneumonia is caused by a virus, like influenza, there is not much we can do but ride it out and wait for your own immune system to clear it.  The simple fact is that we just don’t have very good medications for viruses. Tamiflu can be prescribed and it might slow down the virus, but it doesn’t kill it or stop it.

So, they did the only thing they really could do, and started her on IV Tamiflu.  She was moved to the intensive care unit downtown, and within the next few hours she struggled to breathe and her oxygen saturations continued to fall. She had to be placed on a ventilator, and the hope was that her lungs would recover after a few days. After all, it was ‘just the flu’.

We never did get to speak with her again.  

Read more…

Amanda Peet Encourages Vaccines During Pregnancy to Protect Infants

March 7, 2015 2 comments
Photo Credit: FayesVision / WENN

Amanda and her husband welcomed their third child, Henry, back in December, 2014.  Photo Credit: FayesVision / WENN

Being a mom to Molly and Frankie is, without a doubt, the most rewarding role I’ve ever had.  As we prepared to welcome another baby into our home this fall, I was reminded of just how fragile and precious a newborn can be.

In recent interviews with Fox News and CNN, I shared my concerns over the growing number of unvaccinated children in the area where we live. It frightens me to think that my baby may possibly be exposed to a dangerous and life-threatening disease before he is old enough to be vaccinated himself. It seems unfair that while I do everything in my power to protect this delicate new life, others are making a choice that puts my child at serious risk.

I have real reason to worry. When my second daughter Molly was just 10 months old she contracted whooping cough (also known as pertussis). As any parent can relate, it’s scary when your child gets sick, but it’s especially upsetting when you realize that your child is part of the largest outbreak of whooping cough in over fifty years. As an advocate for Every Child By Two’s Vaccinate Your Baby initiative, I was all too aware of the fact that whooping cough can be deadly for infants, and yet here we were facing that terrible diagnosis. We were incredibly fortunate that Molly fully recovered, but I’ll admit that I was completely rattled by the experience.

Fortunately, since that time, scientists have been closely examining the possible causes for the large number of whooping cough cases over the past few years and have made recommendations aimed at curbing the outbreaks. Part of the problem is that the immunity against the disease is wearing off so that people throughout the U.S. are less immune to whooping cough. Therefore, it’s more important than ever for infants to receive all five recommended doses of the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccine, followed by the booster shot of the adult version of the pertussis vaccine (Tdap) at 11 or 12 years old.  It’s staggering to note that 83% of infants who are diagnosed with whooping cough got it from a family member, most often their own parents. Therefore, adults need to make sure they get a Tdap booster before a new baby arrives to protect themselves and to stop the spread of the disease to infants, who are most likely to become seriously ill from the disease.

Most important for newborns, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices took a good hard look at the pertussis research and concluded that we can best protect newborns by ensuring that pregnant women receive an adult Tdap booster in their last trimester of each pregnancy. By getting vaccinated during pregnancy, not only was I protected, but antibodies were transferred to my baby through the placenta, providing my baby with protection against pertussis before he could start getting DTaP vaccine at two months of age. So I followed my doctor’s advice and not only received the Tdap vaccine during my last trimester, but I also got a flu shot.

Just as I have the ability to protect my newborn from pertussis, I also have the ability to protect him and other members of my family from influenza. I’ve learned that due to changes in a pregnant woman’s immune system, heart and lungs, I was more prone to serious complications from the flu such as pre-term labor and delivery, hospitalization and even death. And, since children can’t be vaccinated against the flu before six months of age, everyone in our family must do all we can to protect our baby boy.  With my child being born in the midst of flu season, I wanted to do everything I could to protect him from a disease that causes more than 20,000 children under the age of five to be hospitalized each year.  I find it upsetting to learn that with all the medical resources available to us here in the U.S., last year’s flu season claimed the lives of 109 precious children.

I’ll admit that as a parent I’m concerned about the threat of vaccine-preventable diseases, especially as a result of people choosing not to vaccinate. But I refuse to stand by and watch as others put my children’s health at risk. By getting the flu and pertussis vaccines during my pregnancy, I felt empowered that I could do something positive to protect my child. And you can too.

Talk to your doctor if you have questions about vaccines. In addition, encourage your friends and family to utilize the resources provided by reputable organizations, such as Every Child By Two and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  And be sure to immunize yourself and your entire family.

Our Life Without Emily: Flu, Fear, Guilt and Regret

December 12, 2014 166 comments

By Joe Lastinger, Board Member, Families Fighting Flu

1525360_10151953693783780_1550060010_nMy daughter, Emily, should have started high school this year full of excitement and potential. Her teachers would ask her, “Are you Chris’s little sister?” or “Are you Andrew’s little sister?” In my head I imagine her earning high marks in advanced classes, joining student council, playing volleyball and basketball and having a great group of close friends. Now I realize that it might not have turned out that way. It’s quite possible that Emily would have entered high school at the peak of her teenage rebellion and might not even be on speaking terms with her mom and me. We will never know, because she died suddenly and tragically from influenza when she was only 3½-years-old.

Emily died from influenza in 2004. She died in our bed, in her pajamas, watching cartoons – just hours before we were scheduled to take her back to her pediatrician to have her looked at again.   Doctors have terms to describe how children like Emily can be so sick and not necessarily appear so…it’s called “compensation”. Children, we learned, can sometimes compensate for illness…until they can’t anymore.

If I had to describe how my wife and I thought about influenza – “the flu” – before Emily died from it, I would compare it to lice. I know that seems like a silly comparison, but chances are most parents at one time or another have had the unpleasant experience of dealing with lice. It’s a nuisance, cleaning hair, searching for nits, laundering, etc. You hope that the rest of the family doesn’t get it. You are kind of mad that it happened at all. It messes up your family’s busy schedule. You worry that other parents aren’t being diligent and will end up re-infecting your kids (well, at least we did). Maybe you wonder who started this whole mess to begin with.

But, we couldn’t have been more wrong. Influenza kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. every year. You don’t have to be old, sick or immune compromised. Influenza kills healthy adults and children (like Emily) every year. We’ve spent the last decade working to reduce the number of kids that die every year from the flu. Much of this work has been through Families Fighting Flu, a non-profit advocacy organization we played a small role in getting started, and some of it has been on our own through state and regional efforts in Texas.

The year 2015 will mark a decade that my wife and I have been working to reduce (eliminate, really) the number of childhood deaths attributed to influenza. Ten years without Emily in our lives. Ten years working to make sure that what happened to us doesn’t happen to other parents.  There have been successes (universal vaccine recommendations) and failures along the way (people still aren’t taking advantage of vaccinations that are widely available). Recently, I’ve been reflecting on what I have learned over that time and thought I would share a few insights. Read more…