Previously I have written about:
Unfortunately, influenza (flu) has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, with 7.3 % of deaths last week caused by pneumonia and the flu according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is just above the epidemic threshold of 7.2%. Forty-seven states have now reported widespread influenza activity, according to the CDC's latest FluView report. Widespread flu activity means more than 50% of counties or sub-regions within a particular state are reporting flu cases. There is some evidence that the flu season has peaked and is starting to decrease based on the fact that 16 states reported moderate activity last week while the previous week showed high activity in 29 states. This waning of the flu season may also be geographically dependent with the West coast being on the upswing, while the South and Southeast -- where flu activity was reported early -- may have already peaked and data now show declines in case counts. Here in Virginia, we had widespread influenza activity in December, a month or two early compared to previous years. Outbreaks have been reported in schools and nursing homes in all regions of the state but no children have died.
Annual vaccination against seasonal influenza is recommended for almost all persons (as long as you are more than 6 months old). For the past 8 years, the CDC has estimated the effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccine to prevent influenza-associated acute respiratory infection (ARI). This season, early data from 1,155 children and adults with ARI enrolled during the month of December showed an estimated vaccine effectiveness of 62%, which indicates moderate effectiveness. That means a person who takes the shot is 62% less likely to have to go to a doctor to get treated for flu. The vaccine has been about 60-70% effective at preventing the flu in recent years. As I mentioned in a previous post experts from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other institutions have to make their best educated guess as to which specific influenza types (or strains) to include in the vaccine based on available data. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they’re not. With that being said, 62% is a whole lot better than 0%. According to Dr. Tom Frieden of the CDC “what we have known for a long time is that the flu vaccine is far from perfect. But it's still by far the best tool we have to prevent the flu.“ There are some who believe that even in those vaccinated persons who contract the flu, the illness can be less severe.
So what’s the take home point…get vaccinated! If you have already received your flu vaccine/shot… fantastic. If you haven’t, please get vaccinated as soon as possible. It may not be perfect, but 62% is a whole lot better than 0%.
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Dr. Ananth Thyagarajan (Dr. T.)