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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…

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…

Amanda Peet and NFID Practice Flu Preparedness

September 27, 2013 7 comments

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Amanda Peet isn’t just an award-winning actress.  She’s also a wife and a mother to two young children.  As an informed parent, Amanda Peet takes an active role in keeping her family healthy.  And as an Every Child By Two vaccine ambassador, she knows that immunizations are the best way to protect herself and her family from preventable diseases such as influenza.

This is why Amanda got her seasonal flu vaccination at a local Walgreens yesterday.   By participating in the “Get a Shot. Give A Shot.” campaign, Amanda will not only help keep her from getting the flu, but her actions will prompt Walgreens to provide a life-saving vaccination to a child in a developing country.

Amanda explained her global health concerns by saying,
PHOTO CREDIT:  Stuart Ramson for United Nations Foundation

Photo Credit: Stuart Ramson for United Nations Foundation

“Unvaccinated children and grownups are a threat to all adults and children everywhere.  It takes the whole community.  Remember that as a global mother you and your neighbors are responsible for kids everywhere. “

As Amanda Peet received her vaccination in New York City, she was echoing the sentiment of influenza experts speaking simultaneously in Washington, DC.  The National Foundation of Infectious Diseases hosted a press conference yesterday to share information about last season’s vaccination rates and provide details about the various vaccines and tools available to the public this year.

Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health, US Dept. Health and Human Services was one of the distinguished flu experts on the press conference panel, who kicked off the event by explaining that

“The flu is predictably unpredictable.”

The early onset of the last year’s flu, followed by 15 weeks of an intense and elevated season, resulted in record hospitalizations among the elderly.  Even though more people were vaccinated last year than ever before, (with 42% of adults and 57% of children),  there were 164 children that lost their lives to influenza, the highest number of pediatric deaths every recorded with the exception of the H1N1 pandemic year. Read more…