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Monday January 14, 2019

Don't let a slight dip in flu cases fool you

Christmas

Texas and some other parts of the nation caught a break last week when the latest flu activity report showed levels dropping slightly. Influenza is considered at moderate levels in the state, the newest surveillance report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, down from the ultra-red danger zone where it was just the week before.

Similar scenarios occurred in some other sates

"The proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) decreased from 4.0% to 3.5 percent, but remains above the national baseline of 2.2 percent," the agency reported.

Think that means you can relax? That it's over now? Far from it.  

The state remains in the top half of the nation for flu activity, and just the week before last, flu activity had risen significantly. We're in the thick of flu season, and rates can easily increase again. The flu continued to result in deaths over the past week, including among children.

"Despite these lower severity indicators, flu is still taking a serious toll this season," says another CDC report released Friday. "Today CDC reported an additional three flu pediatric deaths. To date there have been 16 flu pediatric deaths. Given that significant influenza activity is likely to continue to occur, severity indicators are expected to rise."

Last year’s flu season ultimately claimed the lives of 180 children, 80 percent of whom had not been vaccinated.

It’s a less severe flu season so far than last year’s, which was dominated by the H3N2 flu strain. H3N2 is a particularly virulent strain and mutates rapidly, making it hard to tackle with vaccines that must be manufactured months beforehand. This year’s season is dominated in most areas of the country by the H1N1 strain, against which the vaccine is generally more effective. But the actual effectiveness of the vaccine will not be known until the CDC compiles its annual report on the subject, usually in February. Last year, the flu vaccine ended up being far more effective than early reports had indicated, which means very large numbers of deaths and hospitalizations could have been avoided if people had gotten their flu shots.

With the 2018-2019 flu season well underway, CDC today estimated that so far this season, between about 6 million and 7 million people have been sick with flu, up to half of those people have sought medical care for their illness, and between 69,000 and 84,000 people have been hospitalized from flu. CDC expects flu activity to continue for weeks and it continues to recommend flu vaccination.

In other words, it's still a good idea to get a flu shot, though it takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective. The peak of flu season can occur as late as March.

“An annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect against influenza and its potentially serious complications,” the CDC said in a recent flu update. “There are many benefits to vaccination, including reducing the risk of flu illness, doctor’s visits, hospitalization, and even death in children. Flu vaccination also has been shown to reduce severity of illness among people who get vaccinated but still get sick. For anyone 6 months or older who has not yet been vaccinated this season, CDC recommends that they get vaccinated now.”

Last year’s flu season was particular hard on Texas. As Allison Winnike, president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership, wrote a year ago in the Houston Chronicle, “We're confronted daily with saddening reports of how many people have died. In Texas, there have been 1,150 flu-related deaths reported between Oct. 1, 2017 and Jan. 12, 2018.”

Winnike went on to remind the public: “Flu vaccine rates in the United States are generally far short of where they should be. Usually, about half of Americans are vaccinated each year, but almost everyone ages six months and older should be.”

Vaccination does more than reduce illness among the people who go for a flu shot. They in turn protect the people with whom they come in contact, including the elderly for whom flu shots tend to be less effective, and babies younger than 6 months, who are not old enough to be vaccinated.

Just a reminder that the flu shot cannot possibly give you the flu. It is made of dead virus.

Now is still the time to protect yourself and those around you with a simple shot. You’re not too late.

 

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