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Submitted by the American Medical Association on January 2, 2018.  The CDC is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

NBC Nightly News (12/30 ) reported on Saturday that “the CDC says this flu season is already shaping up to be a lot worse than last [season’s], with widespread flu activity now being reported in dozens of states.”

NBC Nightly News reported that flu is widespread in 36 states, according to the CDC.  This is more states than last year (24.)

Modern Healthcare (12/29) reported the CDC issued an alert warning health care professionals of an uptick in cases caused by the H3N2 strain of the flu virus, “which is usually associated with a higher number of hospital admissions and flu-related deaths.”

BLOGFINGER MEDICAL COMMENTARY:  By Paul Goldfinger, MD

Influenza is hitting the US very hard this season;  it is especially bad in the south, except for Florida where the snowbirds complain about 60 degree temperatures.

The CDC says that it will peak towards the end of January, and senior citizens are at the greatest risk of acquiring influenza and for getting very sick from it, including an increased mortality and hospitalization risk.  The currently most active strain, H3N2 is also the most deadly.

“If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet,” Schaffner said, “run, don’t walk, and get yourself vaccinated. It can take up to 10 days for the vaccine’s full effects to kick in.”  (This quote is from an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.)

The symptoms of influenza are usually worse than with the common cold including high fever  (which may be absent,) hacking cough (which may be dry,) tightness in the chest with shortness of breath, shaking chills, marked fatigue and headache.  Complications include sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, and aggravation of asthma.

We used to gear up for the yearly peak of influenza around this time, when our hospital and ER would be swamped with patients.  It was the only time of year when we expected to have beds filled in the hallways. Stay out of the hospital if you possibly can.

Avoid crowds, avoid children or adults with respiratory infections, and wash hands often  (pick up some antibacterial liquid soap such as Dial.)   If you get sick, make sure you stay hydrated with electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade.  Chicken soup made with vegetables has medicinal value as long as a Jewish doctor suggests it.

And, if you think you have the flu, call your doctor to see if he wants to order an anti-viral medication such as Tamiflu, but do that as soon as symptoms appear.

Good luck staying out of trouble with this situation.

 

 

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The CBS Evening News (1/30, lead story) reported on Friday that “the CDC said that the flu season in much of the country appears to have peaked.” However, “the flu is now widespread in all but six states and it’s sending Americans 65 and older to the hospital at the highest rate in at least a decade.”

NBC Nightly News (1/31, story 3, 0:25, Williams) reported that the high number of hospitalizations is “being blamed on this particularly nasty strain of flu this year and a vaccine that, sadly, has proven only about 23 percent effective.”

Bloomberg News (1/31, Cortez) reported, “The annual outbreak, already in its 10th week, has extended beyond the lower bound of a normal flu season and isn’t showing signs of easing, said Lyn Finelli, chief of surveillance and outbreak response at the” CDC. In a telephone interview, she explained, “‘While the flu may have peaked in many areas of the country, there is a surge in other areas,’ including New England, the Northeast and the West Coast.”

 

Blogfinger Medical Commentary:  Paul Goldfinger, MD, FACC

The influenza pandemic 1918-1919 killed 20-40 million people worldwide.  This gives you an idea of the potential virulence of this viral illness.  During the last ten years, the CDC has been recording hospitalization rates for citizens over age 65 in the US.  The elderly are the most vulnerable group to having serious consequences after catching the “flu.”  This season, which began in the fall, is the worst in ten years.  The A(H3N2) strain is dangerous, and “genetic drift” has made it resistant to the current vaccine.   There is no cure for this illness.

The epidemic has peaked now, and although hospitalizations are still very high, outpatient visits are falling off.   Hopefully we will see a marked drop in a few weeks.  Meanwhile, if you have early symptoms  (cough, fever and sore throat,) call your doctor to see if you are eligible for an anti-viral drug such as Tamiflu  (oseltamivir). This drug should shorten the length of the illness by a day or two and may reduce serious complications. There is some controversy about the use of Tamiflu  (or the two others on the market), but the CDC has advised doctors to use the drug as needed.  I remember one recent flu season where the drug was sold out because individuals were stocking up on it, and even this season there have been spotty shortages.

 

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