The intense, remorseless, relentless and certified severe 2017-18 cold and flu season hasn’t even reached halftime, but health officials are already issuing a coast-to-coast Influenza Red Alert.
With flu outbreaks already reported in 46 of 50 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention are advising Americans to be extremely cautious to protect themselves and their families from developing severe fly symptoms.
“Across the country, hospitals are being overwhelmed by a flu emergency,” NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt reported in the Friday, Jan. 5 edition of NBCNN.
The CDC reports flu numbers are “far worse than this time last year,” and the nation’s congested hospitals are proof. As of December 30, CDC statistics show 41,719 confirmed flu cases nationwide. That’s a jump of more than three times the confirmed 14,713 flu cases at this time during last year’s rough season. The flu surge is so bad many hospitals are restricting visitors and thousands of families are watching family members fall like dominos.
A major factor behind the flu’s powerful surge this season as a relatively ineffective vaccine that is having limited success containing this season’s most prevalent influenza strain: H3N2.
“It’s just one of those years where the CDC is seeing that this strain of flu is only somewhat covered by the vaccine that was given this year,” Jennifer Radtke, manager for infection prevention at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, told USA Today. “They’re seeing that it’s anywhere from 10% to 33% effective, so any time there’s a mismatch between the vaccine and the circulating strain of the flu, you’re going to see more cases.”
In California alone, the Los Angeles Times reports 27 people younger than 65 have died from influenza since October 27. Last season, that number of Golden State flu causalities was just three in early January. UCLA Medical Center in Santa Barbara is treating up to 200 flu victims per day.
The Iowa Department of Public Health reports six influenza-related deaths in the Hawkeye State since October. Last year, the flu was blamed for 135 deaths in Iowa.
The most worrisome facts about this year’s flu season: Influenza cases usually don’t peak until February and H3N2 is traditionally one of influenza’s most powerful, most common and sickliest stains.
“It tends to cause more deaths and more hospitalizations than the other strains,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, L.A. County’s interim health officer, told the Times.
Health officials note it’s never too late in the season to get a flu shot, and even this year’s relatively weak vaccine will lesson the severity of flu symptoms.
“Even if it doesn’t protect you completely, it will make the illness milder,” Dr. William Schaffner, chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Healthline. “So, if you do happen to get the flu despite getting the vaccine, you’re less likely to get the complications of pneumonia, you’re less likely to have to be hospitalized, and you’re less likely, frankly, to die. So, we have to recognize that even though we don’t have a perfect vaccine, it still is pretty darn good.
“[Getting vaccinated] makes it less likely that you’re going to spread the virus to your friends and family and co-workers,” Schaffner added. “No one likes to be, as I say, ‘the dreaded spreader.’ Nobody wants to be the source. So there are a bunch of reasons, still, to get vaccinated — and do it quickly.”
The CDC recommends Americans practice vigorous anti-flu measures and precautions including regular handwashing with soap and water, using hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t readily available, covering your cough and not attending work when sick.
We all have to be extremely vigilant against the flu this season, for the worst may still be to come.
“We’re all tightening our seatbelts,” Schaffner said. “We anticipate a moderate to severe influenza season. It started early, it’s all over the United States, and it’s climbing rapidly.”