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

A New UV Light to Kill the Flu Virus?

According to a new study in Scientific Reports, scientists have come up with a UV light that kills the influenza virus and is also safe for human contact. Current UV devices are often used for sterilization in medical settings but prolonged exposure can cause skin cancer and other problems.

A team at the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center found a potential solution by using something known as far-UVC light instead:

“We wanted to get all the benefits of UV light in terms of killing microbes, but none of the health hazards,” says Brenner. Earlier studies, on animals and humans, have shown that exposure to far-UVC light does indeed appear to be safe. “We haven’t seen any biological damage to skin cells or eye cells, whereas with conventional UV light we’ve always seen lots of biological damage,” he says. Previous research has also shown that far-UVC light can kill MRSA bacteria, a common cause of infections after surgery.

The study shows that the light “inactivated the viruses with about the same efficiency as conventional germicidal UV light…” This type of light could be effective for numerous public settings where the flu and other viruses could quickly spread.

Now, the team hopes to develop commercially available lamps that will kill viruses in public places. Note that this is not an excuse to not practice good hand-washing habits.

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.