As the current flu season unfolds, health officials locally and nationally continue to see the number of cases and deaths rise, with a level of uncertainty as to if the season has reached its peak.
Since October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recorded more than 14,000 people hospitalized nationally with influenza and 53 pediatric deaths. In California, there have been 127 deaths of people 65 and younger, according to the latest update from the California Department of Public Health. Of those deaths, 100 have been recorded since Dec. 31.
“Flu is incredibly complex and difficult to predict and this season is a somber reminder of why flu is one of the world’s greatest public health challenges, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principle deputy director at the CDC, in a teleconference briefing. “In the past week, we have seen increased influenza-like illness activity, more hospitalizations, and tragically, more flu associated deaths in children and adults. And as of this week, overall hospitalizations are now the highest we’ve seen, even higher than the 2014-15, our previous high season. We also continue to hear reports of crowded hospitals and spot shortages of antiviral medications and rapid influenza tests. Unfortunately, our latest tracking data indicate that the flu activity is still high and widespread across most of the nation, and increasing overall.
In Stanislaus County there have been six adults who have died from the flu this season and there are 37 people in intensive care units because of flu-related illness and complications, according to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency.
While seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, flu activity is usually highest between December and February, and can last through the spring. Each year, flu causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands or sometimes tens of thousands of deaths in the United States.
The CDC reported that the influenza A(H3N2) viruses have been predominate this season, which is problematic for health officials, because it is a strain that has in the past been responsible for more hospitalizations and deaths in people 65 years and older and younger children, according to the CDC. Additionally, the vaccine effectiveness for A(H3N2) has generally been lower than other strains. The CDC reported the 2016-17 vaccine had a 32 percent effective rate for this particular strain.
Even though this season’s vaccine is proving to be less effective than officials expected, the CDC is still recommending vaccination.
“We continue to recommend the flu vaccine even though we know most flu vaccines have low effectiveness against H3N2 viruses, effectiveness against other flu viruses is better, and there is more than one flu virus circulating this season,” Schuchat said. “The vaccine may also reduce the severity of symptoms if you catch the flu in spite of being vaccinated, and it is not too late to get the vaccine.
“Some of the serious consequences of influenza are bacterial pneumonias. Viral infections like flu can make people more vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections and we recommend people 65 years of age and over get vaccinated against a common pneumonia caused by pneumococcus.”
The symptoms of influenza, which tend to come on suddenly, may include fever, chills, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. People experiencing flu-like symptoms should call their health care provider if they have severe symptoms, trouble breathing, are pregnant, or have chronic health conditions such as lung or heart disease or diabetes.
Some people are at high risk for serious flu-related complications that can lead to hospitalization and even death including:Pregnant women Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old People 65 years of age and older People who have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
Antiviral drugs can be prescribed by a physician, and work best if started within two days of getting sick. Individuals who are not in high risk groups and who have mild illness typically do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. These individuals should stay home and avoid contact with other people. Anyone who experiences more severe symptoms such as trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, difficulty eating or drinking, or confusion should contact their health care provider or seek emergency care.
To stop the spread of flu and other respiratory illnesses, you should also:Stay home while sick and limit contact with others Cover your cough or sneeze with your sleeve or disposable tissue Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth