Feb 20 2014, 7:09pm CST | by Forbes
If you haven’t had a flu shot yet this year, get one. This from the CDC, which issued an urgent call for flu shots today, warning that this year’s flu season is turning out to be particularly deadly and still has weeks or even months to go.
“Flu can be serious for anyone, and it can kill,” said Centers for Disease Control (CDC) director Tom Frieden, M.D. “Vaccination is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself.”
The CDC is calling for flu shots for everyone except babies under 6 months, including pregnant women. The flu can kill a healthy child in as little as three days, CDC officials warned in a report issued in the October 28 issue of Pediatrics.
This year’s biggest flu threat is the H1N1 virus, informally known as swine flu, a virulent strain of the virus that caused a worldwide pandemic in 2009.
More worrisome is who’s getting sick – because it’s not the elderly and infirm, as you might expect. Instead, more than 60 percent of those hospitalized were between the ages of 18 and 64, according to CDC reports published today in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). And a scary 60 percent of flu deaths have been among those 25 to 65.
This is a big change from past flu seasons, in which adults under 65 have made up just 35-45 percent of those seriously ill enough to be hospitalized.
Unfortunately, it’s this population group that’s also least likely to get flu shots, officials say, prompting their strongly worded public call for vaccination.
Today’s numbers come from a national sampling of 122 U.S cities, but the CDC also issued a special report for California, where the flu has been particularly deadly in recent weeks. Flu deaths in California reached 243 on February 8th, the California Department of Public Health reported, but also said the peak season may have passed in the state (where spring comes early).
Swine Flu Pandemic Revisited?
Most people remember H1Ni from the pandemic of 2009, when swine flu swept the country after the flu strain arrived here in April, very late in the flu season. In that episode, serious illness predominantly involved children and adults under the age of 24, leading the CDC to conclude that older people may have developed antibodies to the virus.
While this year’s numbers aren’t yet closing in on 2009, the fact that it’s young and middle-aged adults who are getting sick changes the picture significantly.
CDC data from the period September 29, 2013 to February 8, 2014 list 571 deaths associated with the flu, and out of those 352, or 62 percent were aged 25 to 64. CDC officials expressed concern that part of the problem might be that flu vaccination rates among adults are significantly lower than in the elderly and children.
Being Overweight or Obese a Risk Factor
The majority of the people becoming seriously ill or dying from H1Ni this year already suffered from some other health condition, in many cases diabetes or obesity, which were also identified as risk factors in 2009.
Tomás Aragón, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Berkeley, here offers a cogent analysis of who’s on the “blacklist” for susceptibility to H1N1, and why you should take yourself off it – by getting vaccinated.
Getting a Flu Shot Isn’t Enough
Once you’ve gotten a flu shot, your vigilance shouldn’t stop there, experts say. Be on the alert for flu symptoms that seem to be worsening or not going away, particularly if you have other risk factors, such as obesity or a compromised immune system.
“It’s also important to remember that some people who get vaccinated may still get sick, and we need to use our second line of defense against flu: antiviral drugs to treat flu illness,” says the CDC’s Frieden. “People at high risk of complications should seek treatment if they get a flu-like illness. Their doctors may prescribe antiviral drugs if it looks like they have influenza.”
Source: Forbes Business
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