Dec 6, 2019
Flu cases on the rise
Clinicians are urging Americans to get flu shots, amid Centers for Disease Control reports that the virus is spreading far more rapidly in the southern U.S. than last year.
“The single best thing people can do to protect themselves from flu is to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Katherine Dallow, vice president, clinical programs and strategy at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “Getting vaccinated is critical to prevent the spread of the disease, especially to those at high risk of suffering serious and life-threatening complications from illness, including the very young, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.”
According to the CDC, reports of influenza-like illness activity are high in seven southern states, and at the highest level in five states: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia as well as Puerto Rico. That’s the fastest spread at this point in the season in more than a decade.
In the same time period last year, only two states had reached the highest level, as seen in the the CDC’s “FluView” surveillance maps
Twenty-eight states, including Massachusetts currently have minimal flu activity at this early point in the season, according to the CDC, but that could change quickly.
“There is basically a 100% chance flu will spread to all 50 states – it’s just a matter of time.”
“In our era of national and international travel, not to mention additional travel during the holiday season combined with the highly contagious nature of all influenza types, we can expect to see more and more case of flu across the country,” Dallow said.
Concerns for children
Five children have died from flu so far this season, according to CDC data.
More than 69 percent of all confirmed flu cases are Influenza B/Victoria. According to a 2015 study, school-aged children are more susceptible to adults to that strain of the virus.
That study does not make it clear why children are at higher risk for type B flu. But Dallow notes that the symptoms children sometimes experience with this strain of the virus may delay an accurate diagnosis.
“Children infected with type B flu may experience nausea, vomiting, abominable pan and loss of appetite, before, or in addition to the typical respiratory symptoms, leading to a diagnosis of a stomach virus instead of flu,” she said.
In the hardest-hit states, emergency room are seeing astonishing spikes in cases of the flu: So far this year, Children's Hospital New Orleans has seen 1,400 cases of flu. Last year at this time the hospital reported just seven cases.
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.
Symptoms of flu may include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue.
Some people, especially children, experience vomiting and diarrhea.
Last year, a typical flu season, the CDC estimates that 42.9 million people got sick with the virus and 61,200 died.
The flu vaccine, a safe and effective shot, is widely available at doctor’s offices, urgent care clinics and many pharmacies. It is covered at no cost by most insurance plans.
Simple steps beyond vaccination also can help prevent the spread of the virus.
She advises travelers to close the overhead air vent in airplane and those who have compromised immune systems to consider wearing a disposable facemask, especially when in crowded public places.
“Wash your hands frequently,” she said. “Clean surfaces with disinfecting wipes and cover your mouth and nose with your elbow when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of the virus.