Flu Season-The Orlando Times
Flu Taking Its Best Shot As More Cases Develop This Season
BY DEVIN HEFLIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
As the United States bears the worst of the winter season in record cold temperatures, the numbers of those stricken by the flu continue to rise.
The nation is at the peak of one of the more active flu seasons in recent years, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have reported. In the last two weeks, doctors have seen an uptick in flu-related doctors’ visits while the rate of flu hospitalizations nearly doubled. The most recent hospitalization rate for flu was 22.7 per 100,000 people, up from 13.7 per 100,000 last week.
The strain is taking its worst toll on the elderly, but is also causing complications for Baby Boomers and young children. Those older than age 65 are experiencing the highest hospitalization rates, but those ages 50 to 64 also have seen high numbers. In the last week, hospitalizations of children under five have almost doubled and there were seven more pediatric deaths, totaling twenty flu related fatalities.
CDC studies projected this year will be worse than the 2012-13 flu season, during which H3N2 was prevalent and there were about 56,000 estimated deaths. But the severity of this flu season isn't expected to be quite as bad as the 2014-15 season, during which vaccine effectiveness was very low and there were about 700,000 hospitalizations.
Since 2010, the CDC estimates there have been between 9.2 and 60.8 million flu cases each year. Annual hospitalizations range from 140,000 to 710,000 and deaths are estimated between 12,000 and 56,000 each year.
Influenza, or flu, is a respiratory infection caused by a variety of flu viruses. The "flu" is a common catch-all term used for a variety of illnesses, but it correctly applies only to the upper respiratory disease caused by the influenza virus.
“The Florida Department of Health recommends that sick people stay home until fever-free for at least 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and that all people exercise good hand washing practices.” Said John Armstrong, Surgeon General and lead of the Florida Department of Health.
• Flu activity is high and continues to increase. In week two of 2018:
• Increases were observed in all regions of the state (see page 7). Review of historical data indicate current activity is now above previous seasonal flu peaks. Region 1 is experiencing the largest increases with approximately 8.45% of emergency department and urgent care visits related to influenza.
• Visits to emergency departments among pregnant women, and adults aged ≥65 years continued to increase sharply and remained well above peak activity observed during the previous seasons. These groups are at high risk for severe complications from influenza infection.
• Thirty-four outbreaks were reported: 20 influenza and 14 ILI; 107 outbreaks of influenza and ILI have been reported since the start of the 2017-18 season.
• More outbreaks have been reported than in previous seasons at this time.
• Nearly all of the outbreaks (94%) reported so far this season have been in facilities serving people at higher risk for complications due to influenza infection (children and adults aged ≥65 years).
• Although illnesses due to influenza have been steadily climbing, deaths due to influenza have not increased at this time. These data will continue to be monitored closely.
An individual can self-diagnose when they experience the following flu-related symptoms:
-Early and prominent prostration with flushed, hot, moist skin.
-Usually accompanied by high (102° -104°) fever, headache and sore eyes.
-General symptoms like chills, depression and body aches.
-Extreme fatigue, sometimes lasting 2-3 weeks.
-Acute chest discomfort, with severe hacking cough.
-Sore throat occasionally.
Estimates are that between 15% and 40% of the population will develop illness from influenza every year. An average of about 36,000 people per year in the United States die from influenza, and 114,000 per year have to be admitted to the hospital as a result of influenza infection. Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems from influenza can happen at any age. People age 65 years and older, people of any age with chronic medical conditions, and very young children are more likely to get complications from influenza.
“We are seeing patients in the ICU with respiratory failure and pneumonia that are caused by the flu,” Dr. Ed Oliveira, who oversees our ICU at Florida Hospital Orlando, said in a statement. “Most of those patients are elderly, have chronic conditions, or are immune-suppressed.”
At Florida Hospital’s Centra Care locations in Orlando, there were more than 1,100 flu diagnoses during the first week of January, which “beat all previous records for flu severity, including H1N1 in 2009, which only hit about 600 cases a week at its worst,” Dr. Timothy Hendrix, medical director of Centra Care, wrote in an email. “I never would have imagined we’d get to this level of flu activity this fast.”
Last year, the flu season picked up in January in Central Florida and lasted into March. But this season, flu activity began in October 2017. By December, Orlando Health CareSpot locations had 800 percent more positive flu diagnoses than the same time in 2016, according to the urgent care chain.
Local providers say that illnesses resulting from the flu — whether it’s mild or severe — this year are not unusual, but it’s more noticeable because of the high flu activity.
“When the virus is more prevalent, more people catch it, and obviously, more people are going to be affected,” said Dr. James Snyder, chair of emergency department at Central Florida Regional Hospital. “There are also some people who are healthy and can get the virus, which turns into pneumonia. And unfortunately, in any year when there’s flu, people die.”
Health officials also advise consumers to go to the doctor if they suspect the flu. Go to your primary care provider, pediatrician, walk-in clinic or urgent care center and avoid the emergency room unless you have alarming symptoms, such as difficulty breathing.
“This year’s flu activity is already widespread and unusual since the strain is changing rapidly,” said director of Orange County health department, Dr. Kevin Sherin, in a news release. “It is even more important to wash your hands, cover your cough, and there is still time to get a flu shot.”
And whatever you do, don’t dismiss the flu.
“My biggest concern is that familiarity breeds contempt,” said Dr. Kenneth Alexander, chief of division of infectious diseases at Nemours Children’s Hospital. “It's important to remember that flu is a serious disease.”