Editorial: Flu Season Is Escalating: Get Your Vaccine

By / Editorials / Wednesday, 07 October 2020 23:02

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has dominated the headlines in recent months and while it's a serious illness, in the United States, as of February 15th, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that so far this season there have been at least 29 million flu illnesses, 280,000 hospitalizations and 16,000 deaths from flu from late September to February.

In comparison, Coronavirus has a cumulative number of cases at 80,593 as of February 25th, with 2,708 deaths and a total of 28,060 cases of recovery worldwide. While those statistics continue to rise in other countries outside of the origin country of China, in the U.S., flu is still a major cause for concern.
State Officials Report First Pediatric Flu Death of 2019–20 Season.

In January 2020, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reporting the first influenza-associated pediatric death for the 2019–2020 flu season. A child in the western part of the state died in December from complications associated with influenza infection. To protect the family’s privacy, no further information regarding this child will be released.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to this child’s family," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore. “These personal losses are also a reminder for all of us that flu can be a serious illness. We want to encourage people to protect themselves and others by getting their annual flu shot.”

Flu shots are widely available at a variety of health care settings. To find a location near you, use the Flu Vaccine Finder at http://flu.nc.gov  Twenty adult flu-associated deaths have already been reported in North Carolina during the current flu season, with 14 of those being in people over 65 years of age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 27 pediatric flu deaths had been reported from other states as of Jan. 4, 2020.

The CDC estimates that between 12,000 and 79,000 people die from flu infections nationwide each year. Certain groups are at higher risk for serious illness from flu, including children younger than five, pregnant women, people over 65 and those with certain chronic medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease. However, over half of the children who die from flu have no known medical condition that would put them at higher risk.

"Flu vaccination is the most effective protection against flu,” Dr. Moore said. “There is still time to protect yourself and your loved ones this flu season."

Early treatment with an antiviral drug can also help prevent flu infections from becoming more serious. Other precautions you can take to protect against the spread of flu and other viruses include:
• Staying home when you are sick until you have been fever free for at least 24 hours
• Washing your hands frequently, preferably with soap and water
• Covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discarding the tissue promptly

Pneumonia and influenza mortality has been low, but 105 influenza-associated deaths in children have been reported so far this season.

Interim estimates of 2019-2020 flu vaccine effectiveness were released this week. So far this season, flu vaccines are reducing doctor’s visits for flu illness by 45% overall and 55% in children.

Antiviral medications are an important adjunct to flu vaccine in the control of influenza. Almost all (>99%) of the influenza viruses tested this season are susceptible to the four FDA-approved influenza antiviral medications recommended for use in the U.S. this season.

The Division of Public Health posts weekly updates on flu surveillance data every Thursday at http://flu.nc.gov

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