The flu season is upon us. It has all the signs of being a bad one and a long one. Massachusetts is the first state, this year, to introduce a public health emergency status in response to the acute influenza period. The demands on stocks of the latest influenza vaccine will be great. Starting around Washington, but quickly followed by the whole country.
Nearly 129 million batches of influenza shots have already been despatched. This represents almost the entire national supply. The pharmaceutical companies were scheduled to produce an estimated 135 million doses, so 95 percent of this is currently on the front line of the battle to prevent the epidemic.
The good news is that the formulation of this year’s vaccine is well targeted, according to health officers, against this year’s strains of the virus. The bad news is that even this soon in the annual campaign, twenty-nine states are seeing greatly raised levels of flu-like conditions since day 1 of the new year. This is being reported officially by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Virginia and Maryland in particular are both feeling the strain of high numbers of cases of ‘fluishness’ all across their territories.
Eighteen people in Massachusetts have died because of complications stemming from influenza infections in the last two weeks. Massachusetts hospitals are taking sensible precautions and adapting their visitor practices in order to restrict the number of potential infection opportunities for the transmission of the influenza viruses.
Even before Thanksgiving, the CDC were reporting a noticeable spike in flu cases and this is a four weeks in advance of normal expectations. The commonest strain this year is the H3N2. This is a type ‘A’ flu virus that has been linked in previous seasons with more acute epidemics.
Influenza can kill the very young, the very old and others with pre-existing weaknesses. The CDC, so far, have counted 18 deaths among children across all 50 states in the 3 months between October and December. The flu death toll as reported in the local press, In Pennsylvania, so far, is 22 people. ER admissions are climbing to such an extent that one hospital in Cedar Crest Pennsylvania have placed a temporary emergency room in the car park outside in order to deal with influenza cases in isolation. Health officials are calling on everybody not yet vaccinated to get their shot as soon as possible. Influenza epidemics tend to peak in the first quarter of the year.
If you haven’t had one yet, you may have to search a little further to find an available one. Up to the end of last week over 128 million doses of this year’s flu shots have been released into the health system. But the best advice is to take preventive precautions, like always have tissues to hand, sneeze and cough into them, get the kids to do the same. Dispose of the soiled tissues immediately and wash or disinfect hands as soon as you can.