TIP Talk!

Saturday March 23, 2019

The flu season that refuses to leave


It's spring! How is it that we're still in the thick of flu season?

Normally, the peak of flu season would be behind us. Yet the latest map of flu activity still shows Texas -- and 18 other states -- in the rest zone indicating the highest level of flu activity. More than half the nation is considered to be at high levels.

As the Wall Street Journal reported Friday:

The percentage of doctor visits for flulike symptoms last week, 4.4%, is the highest figure for this time of the year since 1998, the first season the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tracking flu prevalence this way.

The 2018-19 flu season came in like a lamb and has turned into something of a lion. Though the season isn't nearly as severe as last year's when influenza killed 80,000 Americans including 180 children, it has being hanging on for a particularly long time. 

Last year was dominated by the H3N2 strain of the flu virus, which is particularly virulent and quick to mutate, making it hard to develop an effective vaccine. Even so, last year's vaccine was found to be more than 50 percent effective in children, which means thousands of children could have avoided the illness. The 2018-19 season started with the H1N1 strain more dominant, but in recent weeks, H3N2 began to take hold. This year's flu vaccine was more than 60 percent effective in children, and 47 percent effective in adults.

As Fortune magazine reported:

While this year’s flu season has largely followed the trend of years past—starting in October and peaking between December and February—the number of people experiencing flu-like symptoms has not dropped off as quickly as usual.

That's why experts often remind people that the flu season can actually peak in March. So even though people should generally get their flu vaccines in October, it's not too late to be vaccinated if you miss that date and find that it's November, December or even late February. Of course, being vaccinated on time maximizes your chances of being protected from the flu. Plenty of people are sickened during the flu stage's first couple of months. And it is hard to forget the death of Leon Sidari, a 4-year-old Texas boy who died in 2017 on Christmas Day, 10 days before he was scheduled to get his flu shot.

This year, a little 4-year-old Texas girl died of the flu. She aiso had not been vaccinated.

In both cases, the families came forward to plead with parents to have their children vaccinated.

“See, I feel like I failed because I’m not even 30 yet, and I’m about to bury my little girl,” father Martel Grinage said of his daughter Ashanti. “That was my best friend. She was only 4, but that was my best friend.”

Even during its less effective years, scientists find that the flu vaccine is our most effective tool for preventing the flu. If only more Americans took advantage of this life saver.






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