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IT’S FLU SEASON: NEWS AND VIEWS

Special Edition: Flu Season News and Views

flu season is off to a roaring start

This year’s flu season is off to a roaring start.

First, the bad news. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), last year was a deadly record-breaker. Perhaps because of spreading anti-vaccine sentiment, vaccinations were at the lowest level in years, topping out at only 37% of the population. Coupled with a particularly nasty virus strain, flu deaths reached levels not seen in fifty years.

 

Think the flu is no big deal?

In the 2017-18 season, in the United States alone:

  • 49 million people caught the flu
  • Nearly one million required hospitalization
  • Almost 80,000 people were killed, 70% of them over 65.

This year we will be dealing with several strains of the flu virus. Most of them are milder than last year’s killer bug, but still quite deadly, capable of sickening tens of millions and killing tens of thousands of Americans. And vaccination rates are still lagging behind historic levels, leaving most of us vulnerable to a neighbor’s sneeze or a contaminated doorknob.

 

But there’s good news, as well.

First of all, there’s still time. This season is off to a slow start, with only a handful of cases cropping up so far in most areas of the USA. But there’s no reason to be complacent. The CDC expects the season to progress normally, with a full-blown epidemic in place in a few short weeks. Fortunately, this year’s vaccine should be a good match to the expected strains.

Recent guidance also indicates that right now is an ideal time to get vaccinated, since the vaccine’s effectiveness can fade if you get immunized too early. Clinical Infectious Diseases recently published a study by Kaiser Permanente researchers that showed a 5% reduction in protection every week past the vaccination date.

And there’s the risk of waiting too long, as well—your body needs time to respond to the vaccine and have a robust reaction when the virus reaches your neighborhood, infects you, and attempts to multiply. If you’ve ever played a “tower defense”-type video game, it’s very similar: now’s the time to fortify those gun emplacements and get ready for the next wave. To win, you must be ready.

 

New treatment options offer better results.

For the last 20 years, Tamiflu has been the only real treatment for the flu once it’s started. But it’s never made much of an impact. Requiring multiple doses over many days, it can be hard to manage—and if doses are skipped or missed, there’s the risk of more resistant strains emerging.

But doctors and epidemiologists are very excited about a recently-approved upgrade. Baloxavir marboxil (trade name XOFLUZA) is a single-dose antiviral that has proven very effective, if taken within 48 hours of first symptoms. Approved for patients over 12 and available by prescription, it uses a novel approach of blocking the endonuclease enzyme that the flu virus needs at one of the earliest stages of infection. Even if it fails to block the flu from taking hold, it can shorten the duration, reduce the severity of symptoms, and lower the risk of life-threatening complications. With only one dose required, it’s less likely to be mismanaged.

Still, no antiviral is as effective as immunization. The flu vaccine is a proven effectiv, safe, and widely available option.

 

Bottom line: get your flu shot NOW. It’s in stock at drug stores and clinics everywhere, it’s low-cost, and with most insurance plans, it’s FREE.

 

Close up of medication pills on the hand of the senior person

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