This is the season colds and flu, or is it? Normally at this time of year clinics, hospitals and doctor’s waiting rooms are full to bursting with people trying not to get to close to those around them, but not his year. The perennial boom in winter chills is just not happening this year. February is the normally the top rated month for reported cases of influenza with more days lost from work than at any other time of year. But is the peak not coming or is it just late?
[box type=”important”]The US Center for Disease Control Epidemiology and Prevention Branch, influenza division are saying that it is late, the latest in fact for nearly 30 years.[/box]
The harbingers of the flu season are when the number of respiratory specimens testing positive for an influenza virus, rises above one in ten. This will normally be in the last 2 months of any year rather than as now the second month of the new year. The 10% threshold was not met until early February and in the third week it has risen to 15%. So here we go.
The CD are mystified as to exactly why the flu season is so late this year. So you can take your pick from several theories about the delay. The unseasonal warm weather and milder winter is of course everybody’s first thought. Influenza viruses survive and spread better in colder drier conditions and so they have had it tough this winter. It is outdoor weather too. The more time we spend outdoors the less time we spend in closer contact with one another and therefore the less opportunities for exchanging infected bodily fluids.
Most of this years influenza cases have been from the H3N2 and H1N1 strains. These are the same as last years and therefore many of us have built up immunity and still carry immunity from last years’ vaccinations. In fact the H1N1 strain has revisited for three seasons and is basically the same virus. This according to the chairman of pediatrics at Wake Forest Medical School who emphasizes that so many of us are now much less open to this infection.
Credit must also be given to the effectiveness of influenza vaccines and the wider uptake of vaccination programs. We do not know exactly how many more people have been immunizedÂ in 2011 over 2010 but it is significantly more.
The CDC are predicting a rise in the number of influenza cases over the next few months. Every state in the Union are reporting a rise in the number of cases with California and Colorado at the top of the influenza league. While the number of doctor and hospital visits are not as great as previous years, three children have died because of the infection. These fatalities could perhaps have been avoided. The CDC is encouraging anybody over 6 months old to get a flu shot. It is not too late and you can avoid joining the wave of sufferers expected in march.