Hospitals See Significant Increase in Flu Patients, Deaths
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the U.S. is at peak flu season and warns of several more weeks of significant flu activity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a press conference last Friday, indicating the United States is at peak flu season and it is now considered an epidemic.
The federal agency says the rate of hospitalizations is continuing to climb and warns of several more weeks of significant flu activity, reports ABC News. The flu is widespread in every state except Hawaii.
“We’re seeing a lot of patients with the flu compared to last year,” says Dr. Jesse Jacob, associate professor of medicine at Emory University of Medicine. “We’ve tested nearly twice as many patients as we have the year before and we’re seeing about four times as much flu.”
In the first week of 2018, seven children died from the flu, bringing the total number to 20 so far this season.
According to the CDC, children younger than five are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications. Babies under the age of two are even more vulnerable.
“Their lungs, their immune systems are still developing, especially the younger ones, and so they have a lot more complications,” says Dr. Claire Bocchini, an infectious disease specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital.
Flu Season Began Earlier Than Usual
Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, director of the Influenza Division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, says this flu season started earlier than usual.
“That’s about a month earlier than it normally would be peaking,” he said, “so lots of cases [are] happening, in lots of states, all at the same time.”
The most common strain in this cycle has been Influenza H3N2, which the CDC says is usually more severe and has not been prevalent over the last few years.
“Whenever [H3N2] shows up, it causes lots of disease, lots of hospitalizations, lots of cases and lots of deaths,” says Jernigan. “We know that the influenza vaccine is the best way to prevent, but in this season it is not as effective as it is for the other viruses that circulate.”
Although many sources have claimed the flu vaccine is only 10 percent effective against this year’s flu, Jernigan says that number is from an Australian study and does not necessarily apply to the United States.
“The 10 percent is a very low estimate that came out of Australia over their season last summer,” says Jernigan. “The same kind of virus that we had last year was around 30 percent to 33 percent effective for the H3 component. It’s actually more effective for the other parts of the vaccine that are trying to prevent the other flus circulating.”
Hurricane Maria Impacting Flu Treatment
Many hospitals are also facing shortages of IV bags after Hurricane Maria cut off power to manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico, according to CBS News.
Hannah Owens-Pike, a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, says she has been using Gatorade to combat dehydration. It now takes her four times as long to administer treatment that would typically be done intravenously with IV bags.
“Not until this happened did we realize how many things are actually being produced there and how it is significantly affecting the whole country’s medical system,” says Owens-Pike.
Puerto Rico produces $40 billion in pharmaceuticals for the U.S. each year.
Preventing Contraction, Spreading of the Flu
The CDC recommends the flu vaccine and says it isn’t too late as there are many more weeks of the flu season remain.
For those who have contracted the flu, the CDC also recommends antiviral drugs, which can prevent serious complications from the flu if taken within 48 hours of when symptoms begin. It is especially recommended for children under the age of five and adults over the age of 65.
“It’s never too late to get the vaccine because the flu season can go on for months. It takes the vaccine about a week to really kick in. But if you’re at risk, which pretty much anyone out there is right now, you haven’t gotten the flu shot, you should get vaccinated. That’s the recommendations from the CDC,” says Jernigan.
Experts say the best common-sense practices to avoid getting the flu or spreading it, aside from getting the flu shot, is to stay out of work or school if you have the flu, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
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