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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…

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…