Ten days ago, I bemoaned the relative calm in the U.S. (compared with the panic over Ebola) surrounding what was then a pretty bad flu season. Things haven’t gotten much better. Yes, more public attention is being paid now, but now we are in the middle of a raging flu epidemic. The reason for this is that the flu vaccine isn’t as effective against the strain of influenza that is sweeping people off their feet.
“The geographic spread of influenza in Guam and 46 states was reported as widespread” for the week ending Jan. 10, according to the latest information from FluView from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is up from 43 states reported the last week in December. Cumulative hospitalizations have jumped from 12.6 per 100,000 people in the final week of December to 29.9 hospitalizations per 100,000 people at the end of the first week in January.
The 2014-2015 flu season has claimed the lives of 45 children so far, 19 of whom succumbed between Jan. 4 and Jan. 10. The CDC reports pneumonia and influenza were responsible for 8.5 percent of all deaths in the first week of January. “This percentage was above the epidemic threshold of 7.0% for week 1,” notes the CDC.
Y’all catch that? We are “above the epidemic threshold.”
Epidemics usually incite panic or all-out hysteria. After the first of four confirmed cases of Ebola, bright lights everywhere called for everything but putting a glass dish over the U.S. to keep out the hard-to-catch disease. But the flu, which can be spread by water droplets from a cough or sneeze from up to six feet away, has produced nary a peep. There hasn’t even been a run on Robitussin.
Even though the flu vaccine is only 23 percent effective, folks are still urged to get the shot. They are also urged to get influenza antiviral medications if they do get sick. CDC Director Tom Frieden has told reporters, “Antiviral medicines save lives, but unfortunately they’re underutilized.” Well, it’s time to change that.
Oh, and there is one other thing you should do if you get sick. Stay home! It’s a good way to slow the flu’s spread. Your family might hate you for it, but your fellow commuters and coworkers will be most appreciative.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj