2017-2018 was a record epidemic season for influenza in almost ten years. One infamous record was that deaths attributed to flu were above the epidemic threshold for sixteen consecutive weeks nation-wide. Last year was also the first season ever to be classified as high severity over all age groups since the current classification system had been instituted sixteen years ago. Here is some seasonal information that you should be aware.
Influenza is a respiratory infection that causes fever, cough, sore throat and nasal congestion. Additional symptoms include headaches, muscle aches and fatigue. As these complaints sound similar to the signs of the common cold, the severity commonly is much worse. Not only can the intensity be serious enough to cause weeks of lost work or school, but the infectiousness can be so powerful as to infect the majority of a workplace or school from a single source. Influenza can evolve into complications which kills thousands of Americans every year, more commonly those with chronic health problems, the elderly and very young. However anyone can suffer a complication of this illness, sometimes requiring hospitalization with significant lost time from daily routines, or even resulting in death.
A severe outbreak may commonly last up to eight weeks regionally, and can possibly expect to infect one out of every three people in a community. Hand washing and hygiene are always important, but the single best prevention of influenza is the seasonal immunization. Appropriate for almost everyone six months or older, it is especially important for those with any chronic disease such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, heart, kidney or liver disease, and any kind of cancer. Also, those who are overweight or 50 and older are at a significant risk as well.
The influenza immunization recommendations from the CDC for the 2018-2019 season again include quadrivalent injectable vaccines. This year vaccines have been updated to better match the circulating viruses, and should most commonly be provided as the flu shot (inactivated influenza vaccine or IIV) and the recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV). The nasal spray / live flu vaccines which were not effective in seasons past have also been updated. The CDC now does recommend them as an alternative choice for most non-pregnant individuals ages 2-49 this year.
For those interested, the protection for this year’s likely infections is recommended to include:
A/Michigan/45/2015 (HINI) pdm09-like virus
A/Singapore/INFIMH-16-0019/2016A (H3N2)-like virus (changed from A/Hong Kong)
B/Colorado/06/2017-like (Victoria lineage) virus (changed from B/Brisbane)
B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata lineage)
Annual flu vaccines are commonly covered by most health insurance programs at no cost to patients. These immunizations are readily available at county health clinics, most retail pharmacies and many family doctor offices. Nobody knows when the flu will show up in the community. Of course, the sooner the administration, the more effective the immunization. It can take up to two full weeks to acquire immunity from the shot. Now is the time to prevent the flu! Immunize, and don’t let the flu get YOU!
Bradford Croft, DO
East Flagstaff Family Medicine