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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?  

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…

What You Should Know to Prepare for Flu This Season

September 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Earlier today, Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC, joined leading medical and public health experts at the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases (NFID) News Conference to discuss the upcoming 2016-2017 flu season and vaccination coverage results from last season.

While flu season doesn’t “officially” begin until October 1st, Dr. Frieden reminded the public that the flu is unpredictable and there is no way to know when the virus will be circulating in your community.  This is why experts recommend getting yourself and your family members vaccinated now.

During his opening remarks, Dr. Frieden explained that the CDC has already tested 5,000 viruses and has begun to identify cases of flu across the U.S.  While it appears that this year’s vaccine will be a good match to the strains that were circulating at the end of last year, he explained that there’s no way to predict what type of flu season we will have in 2016-2017.  The best that we can do is to be get vaccinated.  flu

Dr. Frieden conceded that flu vaccination is not perfect. While we all wish it were better, he urged everyone over 6 months of age to get vaccinated since a flu vaccine can reduce a person’s risk of flu by at least 50%.  Flu vaccination also substantially reduces the risk of hospitalizations and other complications, while also reducing the risk of death.  In a bad year, the flu kills up to 49,000 Americans, 100 of which are infants and children.  Sadly, about 90% of the children who have lost their lives to flu were unvaccinated.

The most promising statement Dr. Frieden made in his opening remarks helped illustrate the enormous impact flu vaccination can have on our health and our communities. 

“If we could increase influenza vaccination coverage by just 5%, we would prevent 800,000 illnesses and almost 10,000 hospitalizations.”

Childhood Flu Vaccination According to the Numbers

Over the years, we’ve been making progress in increasing flu vaccination rates, however there is still plenty of room for improvement.

For example, Patricia Whitley-Williams, M.D., NFID Vice President and Division Chief and Professor of Pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, stated that ten years ago only about 10-20% of children ages 6-23 months of age were vaccinated against flu. In contrast, last year about 75% of kids in that same age group were vaccinated for flu, exceeding our national public health goal.

Unfortunately, the goal has yet to be met in other age groups. Dr. Whitley-Williams explained that as kids get older, flu vaccination rates tend to decline, with only 47% of children 13-17 years being vaccinated last year.  This has had a direct impact on the 20,000 kids under the age of 5 who are hospitalized with flu related complications in this country every year.  While roughly 46% of people over the age of 6 months old were vaccinated last season, there were still 30 million kids that didn’t get a flu vaccine.

Vaccinating Healthcare Workers 

fight-flu-banner_585x338We are making progress among healthcare workers as well. The data indicates that 9 out of 10 healthcare workers were vaccinated last year, and there was also a slight increase in coverage among healthcare personnel working in long-term care settings such as nursing homes.  Yet, flu vaccination rates among adults age 50 and above decreased by  3% last year.

Importance of Flu Vaccine for Aging Adults 

Wilbur H. Chen, M.D., Associate Professor, University of Maryland School of Medicine concluded the news conference by address the concerns of a growing adult population.  The number of people age 60 and older will soon outnumber children 5 and under, and the concern is that this older demographic is often the hardest hit by flu.

Approximately 70-90% of influenza deaths occur among people 65 and older, and 50-75% of flu related hospitalizations occur in this age bracket as well.  While people are living longer, they can’t avoid the fact that our immunological peak appears to occur somewhere around age 45.  As a person ages, their immune system begins to decline resulting in higher rates of infection, more severe infections, and a lesser immune response when vaccinated.  At an age when flu vaccination is vitally important, only 63% of adults over 65 were vaccinated for flu last season.  Flu vaccination is an effective way to reduce illness and hospitalizations among this age group, while also helping to prevent other health complications such as heart attack and stroke.

Since pneumococcal and flu often go together, Dr. Chen suggested that older adults consider getting a pneumococcal vaccine in addition to their annual flu vaccine, if they haven’t already done so.  There are two different pneumococcal vaccines that are recommended to the public; the first is for everyone 65 and over, while the other is for those under age 65 with certain health conditions. While pneumococcal sends half a million people to the hospital each year, 4 out of 10 Americans over 65 still haven’t received a pneumococcal vaccine.

Importance of Flu Vaccination in Pregnancy

pregnant-women-vaccinated-by-flu-shotExperts continue to emphasize the benefits of flu vaccination among pregnant women.  Expectant woman are six times more likely to die from flu when pregnant, and contracting the flu during pregnancy can result in dangerous complications, to include pre-term labor.  Studies have shown that vaccinating pregnant woman can help protect the mother and her pregnancy while also transferring passive immunity on to their babies which can help protect them against flu for several months after they are born, while they are too young to be vaccinated themselves.  While flu vaccination coverage for pregnant women remained similar to previous season at 49.9%, this statitic measn that nearly half of all pregnant women and their babies are not protected from flu.

No Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine This Year

One of the biggest changes in the flu vaccine recommendations for the 2016-2017 season involves the elimination of the use of the nasal spray flu vaccine this year.   Read more…

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

Read more…

Friday Flu Shot: Personal Experience

October 7, 2011 26 comments

October marks the official start of influenza season.  To  highlight the dangers of the flu and the benefits of vaccination, I plan to incorporate a new feature called “Friday Flu Shots” throughout the course of the next few months.

Today’s Friday Flu Shot focuses on personal experiences.

Just last week I was chatting with a neighbor at the bus stop.  She was talking about the health problems of her asthmatic son.  When I casually asked if she had gotten him his flu shot yet, she matter-of-factly explained that her husband had the shot once before and then he got really sick with the flu.  Somehow that “experience” has since kept all three of her children, as well as herself and her husband, from getting an influenza vaccine each year.

Now, I can’t say that I was surprised by her responses.  Unfortunately, I’ve heard these similar objections before.  As well as many others.

To be honest, if people are looking for a reason NOT to vaccinate for the flu, there are plenty of excuses to be used. Read more…

Vaccinations “Cocoon” Infants Too Young to be Immunized

December 7, 2010 4 comments

By Christine Vara

When our first child was born, my husband and I were intent on protecting her from harm.  While we were probably like most new parents, I’ll admit my husband went to a few extremes.  He would constantly analyze the position of the car seat to ensure her airways would not be restricted. He would tip toe into her room at night to ensure she was breathing.  Once, we drove 14 hours to visit family, only for him to deny everyone the opportunity to hold her.  They all teased him for his constant hovering, but they should have been grateful.  What he really wanted to do was hand out surgical masks.   While he received a great deal of ribbing for his defensive tactics, he was just doing his best to protect her.     

The unfortunate reality is that we can’t raise our children in the proverbial “bubble” – even though that’s what we’d like to do.  But that hasn’t stopped one determined couple from trying, and I can’t say that I blame them. 

Sadly, the Van Tornhout family has suffered what must be the greatest pain imaginable. After five years and four miscarriages, Katie and Craig Van Tornhout, along with their son Cole, were overwhelmed with joy at the arrival of baby Callie into their lives.  Their happiness soon turn to devastation when Callie fell ill with pertussis at just five weeks old, and in a matter of days, quickly lost her battle with this highly contagious disease. 

Today, almost a year after losing Callie, Katie Van Tornhout is preparing to deliver another baby.  While they are certainly thrilled by this new blessing, the family is admittedly quite emotional and cautious as they prepare for the arrival of yet another miracle in their lives.  One way in which they intend to protect this precious baby is to insist that anyone who wishes to visit their newborn be up to date on their pertussis booster.  This includes family, friends and even hospital employees.  The truth is, we can take precautions like washing our hands and covering our coughs, but diseases are often transmitted through droplets in the air and immunization through vaccination has proved to be the best defense against a wide variety of diseases, including flu and pertussis. 

In the case of pertussis, full immunization isn’t typically achieved until a child has received all three doses of DTaP vaccine series which begins at 2 months of age, continues at 4 months and then concludes with the final dose at 6 months.  In the case of seasonal influenza, the vaccine is recommended annually but only for children over the age of six months.  Because of these limitations, children under six months remain most vulnerable to both pertussis and flu in those fragile early months of life.    

In response to the current pertussis outbreaks in states like California, where 10 children have already died just this year, public health officials are desperately trying to educate people regarding the importance of adult pertussis boosters, administered as TdaP shots.  Prior to the birth of a new baby, parents and family members are encouraged to be vaccinated, while pregnant women are being advised to receive their booster shot just after delivery, if they haven’t already been vaccinated before pregnancy. 

In regards to flu protection, everyone over the age of 6 months is encouraged to be vaccinated.  Additionally, pregnant women should know that vaccination during pregnancy offers triple protection.  First, changes to a woman’s immune system during pregnancy can make her more sensitive to the flu and result in serious complications if she is infected.  Secondly, pregnant woman who fall ill with the flu have a greater chance for serious problems for their unborn baby, including premature labor and delivery.  Another significant consideration in favor of flu vaccine for pregnant women is that a mother’s own immunity can be passed on to their unborn child.  In fact, the Wall Street Journal Health blog, recently reported on a study published by the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine that found that babies born to pregnant women who were vaccinated against the flu were 41% less likely to develop the flu themselves.  This is a considerable benefit of vaccination that pregnant women may not be aware of, but is an easy way to help protect their unborn children.  

To further ensure protection of these young and vulnerable children, whose immune systems are not sufficiently developed to handle the vaccine or the illness, it becomes imperative that family members and others who come in contact with these infants get vaccinated themselves.  By surrounding a child with people who are immunized, it forms a virtual “cocoon” around them, helping to prevent them from falling ill and suffering complications, hospitalizations and the possibility of death.   

In light of the Van Tornhout’s newest arrival, and the fact that it happens to be National Influenza Vaccination Week, we hope that more people will take steps to ensure everyone in their family is up to date on their pertussis booster and vaccinated against seasonal flu.  Remember, these simple steps you take will not only protect your family,  but will also help prevent the spread of disease to others, including those like newborn Baby Van Tornhout’s, and all the other children out there that are too young to be vaccinated.

Shot of Great Media Coverage Promotes Good Health

November 5, 2010 41 comments

More positive exposure (pardon the pun) on immunizations and vaccinations appeared in a special insert in today’s LA Times.  The insert, which features a compilation of various articles, is a great boost to vaccine advocates, eager to educate the public on the importance of vaccinations.    

Every Child By Two celebrity spokesperson, Amanda Peet, appears on the cover and defends the importance of vaccination with her featured story.   Other articles highlight everything from recommendations for the seasonal flu shot and concern over the current whooping cough epidemic, to information about immunizations for travelers and how vaccines have shaped modern public health.

STAYING SAFE. Luke receives his flu vaccine on the one year anniversary of his illness.

And you won’t want to miss another great inspirational story that highlights Every Child By Two spokesperson, Luke Duvall.  The detailed account of Luke’s battle with H1N1 comes to life through this compelling story and his determination to spread the message about the importance of immunization against the flu really hits hard. 

Be sure to check out the full details of this insert here and share it with your friends and family.