Beware the Flu, Part Five

According the most recent CDC update, the total number of pediatric flu deaths stands at 84. Just before that, the CDC confirmed that only 26% of kids who died from the flu received flu shots. Though the flu vaccine this year was found to be only 36% effective for the entire population, it’s effectiveness rose to 59% among children between the ages of six months and eight years. Hearing that the flu vaccine was so generally ineffective this year may have influenced some parents to not get shots for their children. In fact, promoting the nearly 60% effective statistic could have encouraged many more children to be vaccinated. Still, the prevailing headlines all focus on the “only 36%” effective statistic.  And according to TIME,

36% effectiveness may not seem very impressive, but the CDC emphasizes in the report that even small increases in immunity can have a large impact on public health. CDC data has shown that even in 2014-2015, a year when vaccine effectiveness didn’t even hit 20%, immunizations prevented as many as 144,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 4,000 deaths. Plus, people who get the shot, but who still end up getting sick, tend to have less severe illnesses than unvaccinated people.

It’s not clear if flu season has hits its peak yet, and could continue through March. This seems likely to me, based entirely on the number of people I see not washing their hands after using the bathroom.

 

Earlier:
Beware the Flu
Beware the Flu, Part Two
Beware the Flu, Part Three
Beware the Flu, Part Four

Beware the Flu, Part Four

Flu is still on the rise, according to the CDC. Alarming headlines like “The Flu is Killing Up to 4,000 Americans a Week” and stories of kidsteenagers, and young people dying are popping up all over. Another article tells the story of a woman who contracted two different strains of the flu at different times; the second flu ultimately leading to her death.

There are signs of a slowdown along the Canadian border and the West Coast but overall cases are expected to rise in the coming weeks, according to CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund. She adds that anytime H3N2 strains are dominant, “we tend to see more severe disease more hospitalizations, more deaths.” In addition, it’s possible we are seeing a second wave of Influenza B infections.

 

As a reminder, you can still get a flu shot! The flu shot can lessen the severity of flu symptoms. And please don’t “forget” to wash your hands. I am forever astounded by the number of people I see use the bathroom and not wash their hand with soap and water. Don’t be a blockhead, wash your hands.

Earlier:
Beware the Flu
Beware the Flu, Part Two
Beware the Flu, Part Three

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, Part Two

The flu this year is so bad the CDC is postponing their much anticipated How to Prepare for Nuclear War training. I suppose it’s comforting the CDC considers the flu a more pressing threat than the potential for nuclear war. On the other hand, the NY Times reports that “Even in the absence of a pandemic, a severe flu year kills nearly 650,000 people worldwide, while a mild one kills just under 300,000…In recent years, the C.D.C. estimates, flu has killed about 12,000 Americans in mild years and 56,000 in moderately severe ones.” Sure, those numbers don’t compare to those predicted to be killed in a nuclear attack, but that’s a different article.

Emergency rooms all over the country have struggled to keep up with incoming patients, some of them even having to turn patients away. Though the flu shot this year is estimated to be about 30% effective, it’s still very much worth getting:

It’s not too late to get a flu vaccine, the CDC said, and there should still be plenty of vaccine supply. Sometimes there are second and even third waves of flu, so a state that’s been hit hard by H3N2 might see a fresh wave of H1N1 flu later and then influenza B may pass through even later.

In addition to the flu shot and perhaps somewhat compulsive hand-washing, I’d like to offer my other personal recommendations of more citrus, and more fresh air.

 

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.