The Good News and Bad News on Flu Season 2013-14

James Thompson, MD Health Pro January 24, 2014
  • You can always count on an escalation of flu and flu-like illnesses at the beginning of the year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports some good news and bad news about how things are going so far.


    Let’s start with the bad news:


    -The incidence of pneumonia, a potentially fatal complication of the flu has been rising since the second week of January.


    -Death rates have also increased over the same period of time.

     Sadly, 20 pediatric deaths have been attributed to flu illnesses as of January 11th.


    -The majority of strains cultured from those sick from the flu have  the H1N1 type. This is the same virus from the pandemic of 2009  which was very lethal.

       

    -More than 60 percent of the hospitalizations have been of people  between ages 18 and 64. Most other admissions have been children  under 5 years of age. This differs from past flu seasons which  reflected a predominance in hospitalizations of young children and  the elderly. This suggests the current flu viruses are targeting a  younger adult population (which may cause it to be more widespread since this age group is more mobile).


    -Supplies of the drugs used to treat influenza are starting to run short in certain areas.


    So What’s the Good News?


    -The currently available flu vaccine protects you against H1N1 (Great news if you have been vaccinated).


    -The majority of current strains of H1N1 are sensitive to Oseltamivar (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza) which are the more commonly used antiviral drugs. There are a small number of reports of H1N1 resistance to Oseltamivar (less than 1 percent).

     

    -Although the prevailing strain is 2009’s H1N1, it does not at this  point appear to be as lethal as it was five years ago.


    -Since that time (2009), the vaccination campaign, flu vaccine  awareness and accessibility to the flu vaccine has increased,  possibly explaining the lower number of hospitalizations and deaths so far.


    - It’s not too late to get the flu vaccine. It only takes a couple of  weeks for the immune system to respond and supply you with  protective antibodies.

     

    Here are Three Action Points Published by the CDC:

     

    1) Take time get the flu vaccine. Familiarize yourself with current vaccine recommendations and get vaccinated. It's the best step to take for flu prevention. Again, it’s not too late.

     

    2) Practice daily preventive actions to stop the spread of   germs. Try to avoid sick people (that would be very difficult for   people who are in healthcare like me). If you develop a flu-like illness stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, except to seek medical care.

     

    Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough. Wash your hands with soap and water, but if not available, use an alcohol based hand cleaner. Avoid touching your nose and mouth as much as possible. Germs more easily spread from one person or thing (such as a counter top) from the hands contacting the face. Wash off desks, counter tops or work stations that are frequented by other people before you contact them. Virus particles may stay alive for two weeks in droplets (moist or dry) of mucus or saliva that have landed on hard surfaces following a cough or sneeze.

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    3) If you suspect you have the flu ask your doctor about  antiviral drug therapy. Certain chronic diseases may place you at  high risk for having life threatening complications associated with flu  syndrome. Some of these diseases include asthma, emphysema,  heart conditions, diabetes and chronic kidney disorders. Antiviral  drug therapy may shorten the duration of the flu syndrome and  decrease the severity of symptoms. In addition, antiviral drugs may  decrease the risk of complications. It’s important to contact your  doctor within the first couple of days in order to maximize the  potential benefit.

     

    Signs of the flu include: sore throat, runny and stuffy nose,  headache, fever, cough, chills, body aches and fatigue. Four or more of the above symptoms this time of the year may signal the  flu or flu-like illness.


     Let’s beat the flu to the punch and do all we can to keep ourselves,  loved ones, friends and co-workers healthy by taking the above three  action steps.

     

     

    References:


    Situation Update: Summary of Weekly FluView (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/summary.htm)

     

     

    CDC Says “Take 3” Actions To Fight The Flu

    http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm

     

     

    Interim Risk Assessment and Biosafety Level Recommendations for Working With Influenza A(H7N9) Viruses (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/h7n9/risk-assessment.htm)