Another winter, another flu season, right?
The country, including Western New York, is in the midst of one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory. It’s not just a bad cold. People are being hospitalized, rates of infection are rising and, experts say, the worst is yet to come. If you are not already immunized, you are taking a risk. There’s still time and it’s not hard to do.
This problem this year is that, while a variety of flu strains may circulate any year, the dominant strain in 2018 A (H3N2), a particularly virulent type which augurs an especially nasty season. And by nasty, we mean potentially lethal.
It’s not just the type of flu, but the breadth and timing of the outbreak, which has spread across all states at the same time. In other years, even a bad strain of flu may be especially notable only in certain regions or move across them over an extended period.
Not so, this year. This flu is sending Americans to hospitals in numbers not seen in a decade, and the pace of infection is quickening. In Western New York, the State Health Department reports that the rate of infection last week reached 65.5 positive tests per 100,000 people. That’s more than triple the rate on Dec. 30, when infections hit 18.3 per 100,000.
The risk is to the entire population, but it’s greatest for young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with serious underlying medical conditions. Individuals 65 and older are especially notable among those being hospitalized.
Children are dying. The Centers for Diesease Control and Prevention last week reported last week 53 flu-related deaths among children so far, and the season has yet to peak. The entire 2016-17 flu season produced 110 pediatric flu deaths. No child deaths have been officially reported in Western New York this season.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Public health officials across the country reported 16 pediatric flu deaths last week. Only around 20 percent of those children had been vaccinated. There’s a lesson in that.
No, the vaccine isn’t an iron-clad guarantee against infection. In some cases, flu may take hold after the immunization is given but before the two weeks it needs to take effect. The shot may protect against one strain of flu, but not the one most prevalent.
But it helps. It may help individuals to avoid infection and limit the risk that they spread it to others. Protecting yourself isn’t hard to do. The shot is readily available at many pharmacies.
Some people should not get a flu shot, including people with certain allergies or who have had a severe reaction to previous flu shots. A health professional can offer guidance.
Flu and cold symptoms can be similar, but those for flu tend to come on abruptly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while cold symptoms appear gradually. Fever is usual with the flu, but rare with a cold.
Everyone can help contain the spread of this virus by doing the usual normal and considerate things: Wash your hands; stay home if you’re sick; cover your mouth or nose when you cough or sneeze.
It’s a rough season that seems likely to get rougher, still. Let’s not make it worse than it has to be.