There’s no epidemic yet, but the flu is spreading throughout the country, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that it could hit young people hard this year.
From November through December, the agency received a number of reports of severe respiratory illness among young and middle-aged adults, many of whom were infected with a strain of the influenza A virus (H1N1). There have been numerous hospital admissions, and several deaths, including six in Pennsylvania.
In 2009, the same virus caused more illness in children and young adults compared to older adults, although it affected all age groups.
So the CDC is warning that if H1N1 continues to circulate widely this year, we may be in for another season in which the younger population is disproportionately affected. The agency did note that school-age children who had the H1N1 flu in 2009 may have some residual protection this year.
Have you had your flu shot yet? Have you had your child vaccinated? It’s still the best protection against the virus—and it’s not too late, With Pennsylvania listed among the states with widespread flu activity, you shouldn’t wait any longer.
It takes about two weeks for the vaccine protection to kick in, but there are nearly two months of the influenza season ahead. We can’t stress enough that the flu is a serious illness, but it’s easily prevented—and yet people still get very ill or die from it. Yet it can be prevented or lessened in severity by getting immunized.
On average, the CDC says 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu each season—last year it was 380,000. And the illness kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people a year.
In advocating the vaccine for everyone over age 6 months, the CDC says the vaccine kept nearly 80,000 people out of the hospital last year and prevented 6.6 million cases of flu and 3.2 million doctor visits.
The CDC expects flu activity to increase during the next few weeks. Should you become sick and are a patient at higher risk of complications from the flu, your doctor can prescribe antiviral drugs as a second line of defense to reduce the chances of severe complications, such as pneumonia. You need to take these medications as soon as possible in your illness.
If you’re relatively healthy or at lower risk, your doctor may still recommend using only supportive care and not treating with anti-virals in order to decrease resistance to these drugs and to save them for people who need them most. This is all the more reason to get vaccinated now.
If you decide to get the vaccine, please call your doctor’s office first as supplies in some offices may be dwindling. If your doctor’s office runs out of the flu vaccine, some pharmacies may still have it in stock and be able to administer it to you there.
Eric F. Hussar, M.D., graduated from Temple University School of Medicine and completed his residency in family medicine at Lancaster General Health. His medical interest includes chronic disease management, pediatrics and minor procedures.