The Right Opinion
This Time I Mean It
Earlier this week I was whining about having what I declared to be "the fluh" which was the flu without the fever.
I am over it.
But, the flu -- the real flu -- is on a tear and this year may be the worst for "seasonal flu" in more than a decade.
Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has upped the ante and announced that this flu season is starting earlier, the virus is infecting more people, and this year's main strain (H3N2) may kill as many as 50,000 in the United States.
Let's do that again. As many as 50,000 people may die from the flu this year in the United States. It would be better if you were not one of them.
It is difficult to come up with an average number of deaths in the U.S. from seasonal flu, but the CDC warns on its webpage, "During seasons when influenza A (H3N2) viruses were prominent death rates were more than double what they were during seasons when influenza A (H1N1) or influenza B viruses predominated. About 90% of influenza associated deaths occur among adults 65 years and older."
To put that number into some perspective, according to the Huffington Post "Hurricane Sandy killed at least 125 people in the United States." Getting some idea of the scale we're talking about here?
As I understand it, the CDC doesn't -- can't -- track every case of influenza. It only those that end up with a trip to the hospital or some other health care provider.
Here are some year-on-year comparisons:
At this point in the flu season last year there were 70 cases reported in Boston.
At the same point this year there have been 700 cases reported in Boston.
In New York State reported cases of influenza have risen 250 percent year-on-year.
In Washington, DC, according to WJLA-TV so far this season "there are 310 confirmed flu cases. Last year, there was a total of 97 cases the entire season."
CNN reported yesterday that in one county in upstate New York, "health officials counted 2,347 flu-season cases through last Saturday. In 2011, during the same seasonal time period, they counted five flu cases."
According to the New York Daily News, "the virus has been reported in 41 states -- 29 of which are reporting high or 'severe' levels."
ABC News, on its website wrote that the CDC "reported 22,048 flu cases from September 30 through the end of 2012. By the same time last year, only 849 flu cases had been reported nationwide."
Not surprisingly, on the FDA web page the anti-flu drug, Tamiflu, in its oral suspension form is now listed by its manufacturer to be on "intermittent backorder" in many locations. Tamiflu in 30 mg, 45 mg and 75 mg capsules remain available, however.
Better than waiting until you (a) feel like the devil, (b) determine it is not a cold, but probably the flu, (c) call your doctor for a prescription for Tamiflu, and (d) drag your sick tush out of the house to the pharmacy to get the prescription filled you should ... get a flu shot and likely miss all that excitement.
The shot takes about two weeks to reach its maximum effectiveness, but before ... but before ... BUT BEFORE you say out loud, "Well, then, it's too late for me to get a flu shot," it is not.
The flu season has about three months to go, so if you go to your pharmacy, doctor, or clinic today and it takes two weeks to rev up, you will still have 2½ months of protection.
As we discussed the other day, flu shots are between 60 and 70 percent effective. However, if you don't get a flu shot you have exactly zero percent of protection.
The Federal Government is apparently right up to date on this situation. The Department of Health and Human Services (of which both FDA and CDC are subsets) has available for your singing and dancing pleasure a 360+ page "Pandemic Flu Plan."
It was last updated in 2005 when Mike Leavitt was Secretary.
This, like the $16 trillion national debt, global warming, and asteroids flying too close to the Earth, is probably George W. Bush's fault.
This year's flu has already reached epidemic levels across most of the nation, but there is no reason to believe it will escalate to pandemic proportions.
But, if you get the flu, your infection rate is 100 percent.
I'm done with this. You're on your own. Get a flu shot.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the HHS Pandemic Flu Plan and to the CDC's information page about the flu. Also a poster from 1918 warning people about the flu.
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