Beware the Flu, Part Three

Flu season is in full, deadly swing in the U.S., with terrible stories popping up; like this 6-year-old child who died soon after paramedics told her parents that trouble breathing was a common symptom of the flu and to keep her hydrated. Her parents also want people to know that their daughter did not receive a flu vaccine and they are encouraging children to be vaccinated. While this year’s flu vaccine is not a perfect match, it can still reduce the severity of the symptoms.

The flu is so rampant it led to a misdiagnosis for this woman, who actually has necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh eating bacterial infection. The woman is expected to survive, but doctors had to remove 30% of the skin on the left side of her body.

Hospitals in California have had to set up giant medical tents intended for major disasters to handle the influx of patients.

“It’s like trying to surf a tsunami,” said Dr. Brian Johnston, an emergency medicine doctor at White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights. “Maybe the wave has crested, one hopes.”

Another complication to this year’s flu is that many of the IV saline bags used to treat flu patients are made in Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria. Hospitals have resorted to two other methods: the “IV push” in which a nurse directly injects the drugs into an IV line (time consuming), and using “an old-fashioned system known as a buretrol device”, also time consuming because many younger nurses need to be trained in this outdated method.

There are only a handful of manufacturers in the US, and one of them – Baxter International – has all of its mini-bag factories in Puerto Rico…Though the federal government has worked with Baxter to get the plants back online, and to allow it to import IV fluids from abroad, serious shortages persist.

Earlier:
Beware the Flu
Beware the Flu, Part Two

Beware the Flu

There were signs this year was going to be a worse than normal flu season based on the severity of the flu in Australia. Generally, the Northern Hemisphere gets a similar flu season to the Southern Hemisphere. So far, the flu is widespread in 46 U.S. states. The flu vaccine each year is basically just a “best guess” concoction at what the most prevalent strain will be. Sometimes, like this year, it’s not a great match. Anyway, you should still get a flu shot.

You still have time!

In California, “so many people have fallen sick with influenza…that pharmacies have run out of flu medicines, emergency rooms are packed, and the death toll is rising higher than in previous years.” The predominant influenza strain this year is H3N2, which is both particularly virulent and which the vaccine does not work well against:

 National health officials say the vaccine might only be about 32% effective this year, which could be contributing to the high number of people falling ill.

“It tends to cause more deaths and more hospitalizations than the other strains,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, L.A. County’s interim health officer.

Of extra concern this year are large numbers of older patients who are showing up at hospitals with the flu and pneumonia, a potentially fatal combination.

Additionally, “27 people younger than 65 have died of the flu in California since October, compared with three at the same time last year,” adding evidence that this flu season is unusually dangerous. All I, and the CDC, can really recommend is that you obsessively wash your hands and get a flu shot. Eat oranges. Get some fresh air. Those last two are my personal recommendations.