Friday Flu Update- It May Be Getting Better!

Finally! Some good news on the flu epidemic.

National trends are on the decrease. The number of visits to doctors for flu-like illness dropped this past week ( down to 6.4 % of all visits).

Sadly, there were 13 more pediatric deaths, bringing the total for this season close to 100. By the end of the season, estimates from the CDC are that greater than 700,000 hospital admissions will have been flu related. That is why my hospital is full, and sending new ER patients elsewhere.

It will take some time for the people that are already infected to either resolve the illness or have to seek medical care. So hospitalizations could still continue to increase for a while. Hopefully, though this season will start to improve.

Overall, though, we are STILL at levels far exceeding the typical baseline, or last year, even. This has been a really bad season.

For all the people that are just plain angry that the vaccine “isn’t working,” please know, that isn’t true. It clearly isn’t doing as good as we want. But in people with the vaccine, hospitalizations are 36% less likely. That is actually a lot. And considering the bug flying  around this year, we should be thankful it had that much impact.

People do tend to get angry the vaccine isn’t perfect, without understanding what we are up against.

  • The flu virus changes from season to season. Even small changes in their makeup make the  vaccine less effective.
  • The CDC has has to guess 8 months ahead of time what to put in the vaccine, .…could you do any better? How hard would it be to guess ahead what kind of genetic drift the flu might take on this next 8 months? Why 8 months? It takes that long to make the vaccine in enough quantity to give to the masses. Growing the vaccine in eggs takes a long time. We don’t (yet) have a better method.
  • The H3N2 version of flu ( which is THE main bug this year), is most resistant of all the flu bugs to  the vaccine.

Hopefully, the data coming in over the next few weeks will keep trending down, and we will be at the end of this mess.

Remember, your BEST protection is:

  • Get a vaccine (remember it takes ~ 2 weeks to build up immunity, so the sooner the better. The season can drag on into summer).
  • WASH YOUR HANDS. Keep your hand way from your eyes, mouth. Stay away from people that are coughing.
  • Get a prescription for Tamiflu from your doctor AS SOON AS YOU GET SYMPTOMS ( or at least within 24-72 hours for it to be the most effective). You’ll get better sooner.

Of note, Japan has just announced a new flu treatment that takes 1 day to combat the flu, instead of the 5 for Tamiflu. Hopefully, it will get approved as safe and effective in the USA in time for the 2019 season ( next year would be asking too much for safe timelines). The FDA may be strict on making sure drugs are safe and effective to market, but by doing that we steer clear of the dangerous marketed drugs of the past (such as thalidomide and e-ferol).

Stay Healthy!



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