Experts: Flu Could Roar With Sickly Wrath This Season
The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases has issued a jarring warning for Americans coast to coast: Expect influenza to roar with a sickly might this cold and flu season.
Unfortunately, influenza’s miserable resurgence is due in part to factors beyond everyone’s control.
Severe weather, including the rash of hurricanes and wildfires that have ravaged the U.S. South and West and treatment availability, could worsen this year’s flu season, according to government health officials. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have interfered with medical care for people who have been displaced, compounding the influenza problem in Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Puerto Rico. Plus, the always problematic H3N2 influenza strain is expected to be especially prevalent this season.
“We’re hitting the flu season with a perfect storm,” Kjersti Aagaard, specialist at Children’s Hospital in Houston, told USA Today.
The Health and Human Services department is strongly encouraging Americans to get vaccinated. The vaccine is effective for 40 to 60 percent of people. The vaccine also reduces the risk of severe diseases and hospitalization, according to William Schaffner, medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
“With the ‘pretty good’ vaccine, we can do an awful lot of good,” Schaffner said.
The U.S. will be armed against a potential cold and flu surge with 166 million doses of this season’s vaccine available.
“It’s the best tool we have right now for preventing disease,” Dr. Daniel Jernigan, influenza chief at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press.
Since 2010, annual hospitalizations from influenza have ranged from 140,000 to 710,000, and yearly deaths have ranged from 12,000 to 56,000 (an average of 24,000 per year), according to the Health and Human Services department. Last year’s toll included 106 children, the CDC noted. Alas, the CDC reports only 47 percent of Americans received vaccinations during the 2016-17 flu season.
“There’s no reason not to get protected,” former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told The New York Times.
Officials are warning Americans to be even more vigilant than usual in their hand hygiene habits and cold and flu prevention measures, for this season’s flu severity is a mystery.
“Nobody knows exactly what the flu season’s like until it actually starts to ramp up,” Terry Berger, director of infection control and prevention at Lehigh Valley Health Network, told reporters in a nationally reported briefing, (but) what we’ve noticed is that there are already being identified, so that’s a bit early.”
Experts’ advice to everyone: Get ahead of the flu before it gets ahead of you. Remember, it takes two weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect.
“The safest thing to do is to protect yourself, protect your family, protect your coworkers and get vaccinated,” Burger said.
Even the grumpiest vaccine will be thankful in the long run, Schaffner said.
“I like to tell my patients, ‘You’re here complaining (about the flu shot), that’s wonderful – you didn’t die,’” he joked.