Sick Man

The Rising Flu Epidemic Has Only Gotten Worse

Figures recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has highlighted the fact that citizens of the United States could be heading into a serious epidemic of the flu virus. The last week of 2019 saw 46 states’ health departments report “widespread” flu activity as well as the number of those sick also increasing to the second highest amount of cases in a decade; second only to the 2017-2018 flu season.

The CDC announced that 61,000 Americans died from the flu during that period, although these numbers were less than the 79,000 they had originally predicted. However, it has also been claimed that the flu vaccine that is offered this year may not actually be able to compete with the strain of virus that is currently spreading across America. Although most experts are still encouraging people to have the vaccination as they should have fewer symptoms than those who opt not to.

The leader of the CDC’s domestic influenza surveillance team, Lynnette Brammer, has confirmed that while it is still too soon to know how bad this season’s flu outbreak will be, there are already cases of hospitalizations and even death, although these do not appear to have increased in numbers as yet. However flu and pneumonia deaths are currently at a lower rate than normal in early January.

Embed from Getty Images

Unfortunately 2019 saw the flu season begin far earlier than normal with those in the Deep South – from Georgia to Texas – seeing large numbers of outbreaks. The virus continued to the Rocky Mountain States and California soon after with the Northeast managing to escape until more recently.

This pattern has been repeated in some countries in the Southern Hemisphere – where winter is between June and August – with Australia also seeing an early flu epidemic in 2019. It usually follows that if the Southern Hemisphere has a bad flu season, the Northern Hemisphere will too.

Despite this there are other ways that America is not “copying” Australia. The A(H3N2) strain of influenza prevailed in many areas of Australia throughout 2019’s winter while American’s appear to be struggling with the B Victoria strain, which usually appears later in the season, often hitting children more than adults.

Although the CDC makes estimates in the number of adults that have died from flu, they keep individual records of all children that have lost their lives to the illness – 27 children have died so far, although the peak season does not usually start until the middle of January. In the 2017-18 season 187 children lost their lives. Residents aged 65 and over are at a higher risk of falling ill.

Nonetheless, there has been an increase in the cases of the strain A(H1N1)pdm09 – a descendant of the 2009 “swine flu.” While H1N1 strains usually occur first they actually result in fewer deaths and hospitalizations per capita than the A(H3N2) or B strains.

Embed from Getty Images

While it appears that this season’s flu vaccination is not suitable to combat the B Victoria flu it has been successful against the A(H1N1)pdm09 strain. The data that the CDC depends on comes from numerous reports collated by clinics, hospital emergency rooms and doctors’ offices across the country, detailing the number of patients that made appointments regarding flu symptoms.

However Kinsa Health has a device that users can connect to their smartphones, enabling them to upload their daily readings of fevers to their app. With around two million users across America using the app this can be a quicker way to measure how quickly the flu virus is spreading. So far the readings from Kinsa has shown that there was a peak in flu like activity just before Christmas with an increase of sufferers on Christmas Eve, however this has reduced by nearly a third in the two weeks since that date, according to their spokeswoman Nita Nehru.

Yet despite the fact that this week’s figures are dropping they are still ‘much higher than is typical of this time of year’ and may increase again now that the schools have returned from their holiday breaks. However these figures could be misleading as the company assumes a fever of more than three days indicates flu and not just a common cold. While the CDC has not endorsed Kinsa or their methods the data continues to show flu patterns up to two weeks ahead of medical clinics’ reports.

Currently the CDC has sampled hundreds of cases of flu and none of them have been able to resist Tamiflu or any of the other common anti flu drugs that are available. This proves that although these medications cannot cure flu, if they are taken early these medications are sufficient enough to reduce the level of an infection.

Flu Shot

Why It’s SO Important To Get Your Flu Shot This Year

The 2019 – 2020 flu season is gearing up to be one of the most intense and difficult ones the United States has seen in a while. The Northern Hemisphere of the world can normally conclude how bad the flu season will be based on how bad it is in the Southern Hemisphere, who experience their seasons before us. Based on the data from May to present day, when countries in the Southern Hemisphere normally experience their winters/flu seasons, we should expect an even more intense season compared to last years severe outbreak. 

Australia is just exiting their winter/flu season, and this year was aggressive from the start. According to Australia’s Department of Health, “influenza and influenza-like illness activity are high for this time of year compared to previous years. At the national level, notifications of laboratory-confirmed influenza have decreased in the past fortnight, however it is likely these figures will be revised upwards due to backlogs in data entry. Influenza A was the most common respiratory virus detected in patients.” 

In addition, a 4-year-old in California who contracted the pediatric flu, after a slew of other health issues, has died already before this years flu season has even truly begun. Even though the child had other ailments that unfortunately lead to her passing, doctors aren’t taking the flu diagnosis lightly. “We should never forget that the flu still kills, I always recommend people get their flu shots every year, but a death so early in the flu season suggests this year may be worse than usual,” Dr. Cameron Kaiser, a public health officer for Riverside County, California, said in a news release, announcing the death. 

Embed from Getty Images

CDC Director Tom Frieden Discusses Importance Of Annual Flu Shot, Then Receives One

Last year the United States experienced up to 43 million cases of the flu, and around 63,000 deaths that were flu-related. Again, that doesn’t mean the flu by itself killed those individuals, but either worsened pre-existing ailments, or brought out new symptoms through weakening the immune system, regardless, the severity of the flu is not meant to be overlooked. 

The Flu season for the United States normally begins with the month of October, but that doesn’t mean you need to wait until then to get vaccinated. Doctors are urging individuals to get their flu shots as soon as they can before the season starts. Sooner is better, but as long as you receive the vaccination before Thanksgiving, you should be good, but no later than that. Older individuals are recommended to try to wait until mid-October for their vaccinations, simply because their immune systems are weaker and may weaken the potency of the shot faster.

“There is a concern that some older people may have their immunity wane simply because their immune system is more frail, less robust,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases told NBC News.  

Embed from Getty Images

Check Your Local Pharmacies For It’s Seasonal Flu Shot Deals!!!

It takes about two weeks for the body to fully process the influenza vaccination and acquire immunity, so doctors are recommending every individual above the age of 6 months get their vaccine fast. Pregnant women are especially encouraged this year to receive their immunization. If a woman who is expecting contracts the flu, it can react as intensely as it does in the body of a 70 year old, this way, the vaccine ensures protection for the mother and her unborn child. 

Many Americans don’t even bother getting a flu shot every year, since in general it’s not that effective. Last year the vaccination was only 29% fully effective, this was partially due to a second wave of influenza that wasn’t expected from doctors, but regardless 29% is not that impressive. However, there IS plenty of evidence that shows the vaccine eases the severity of the flu, and more importantly prevents further complications, that the flu can cause, to occur. These complications are what can lead to so many flu-related deaths such as pneumonia, organ inflammation, heart attack and even stroke. 

Regardless, everyone should consider taking two minutes out of their day to go down to their local pharmacy for a flu shot. For small children and those with a strong aversion to needles, a nasal spray known as FluMist is available for the second year in a row. Additionally, many people have immune systems that react poorly to vaccinations due to high sensitivity, which can cause them to feel even worse as a result. Cases like that are mainly found in older individuals (65 years old and up) who have less strength in general so doctors recommend a vaccine known as FluZone, which offers a different type of stronger dose that will accommodate to the weaker body.