A Deadly Trend: The Flu
By: Amanda Mason
Influenza trends can become a matter of life or death and this year in Arizona, we are seeing the flu occur earlier than the previous year and doctors are concerned.
Since October 1, 2017, there have been 20 cases confirming the flu in Maricopa County, according to Maricopa County Public Health Documents, compared to the previous season it’s a 70% increase in the county.
“This season [in Arizona] we have 92 cases so far in 10 different counties, compared to last year we had 20 cases in five different counties,” said Shane Brady, Infectious Disease Epidemiology Program Manager at Arizona Department of Health Services.
Which equals to a 64% increase, in early detection of the influenza virus across the state.
“We are seeing a lot of flu cases earlier in the year and now in October. It was previously closer to December and January, when it became much more prevalent,” said Dr. Mary-Katherine Harper, Medical Director for Emergency Department at Banner Baywood Medical Center.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, that the flu kills 36,000 people every year in the United States.
In order to find the trends and patterns in the upcoming flu season, doctors in the U.S. look at statistics and trends from around the world.
According to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS), “The rise in flu activity in the Southern Hemisphere usually indicates the type of season we can expect in the Northern Hemisphere.”
Harper said, “Australia ironically has a really bad flu season and it started back in August. There are more the 93,000 cases that are confirmed.”
According to World Health Organization, the flu season this year in Australia during August saw a two-and-half times increase, in comparison to the same time last year. Which means this year the flu added over 55,000 more people to the victim list, which is more than Chase Stadium can hold.
The NNDSS reported, in Australia this year there are already 52 deaths caused by influenza, a jump compared to the 27 deaths from same time last year.
“So when we start seeing these trends. We get more concerned that it is going to hit us harder than normal,” said Harper.
The CDC recommends, everyone to get a flu shot before the end of October and prepare for a forceful 2017 to 2018 flu season.
So far this year the U.S. flu cases are from the H3N2 strain of the influenza virus and early indications show this vaccine with strands of H3N2, is a good match for our flu season, CDC reports.
“You can’t get the flu, from the flu shot, it’s a dead virus in the vaccines. Symptoms may feel like a cold, or you may have the cold already,” said Brady.
A study by the CDC in 2014, found that “More than 40% of the sampled U.S. adults believe the myth, that flu vaccines can give you the flu.”
“People are going to have side effects [from the vaccine], you may have a little fatigue for a couple of days and not feel very well, but it’s never shown any long term disabling effects,” Harper said.
It’s important to get your flu shot as soon as possible. “It takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, because your body has to develop antibodies to fight off the flu virus when you are actually exposed,” said Brady
You can start getting the flu shot at six months old and up.
“As a parent, I want all my kids to be vaccinated to protect them and we as parents should get vaccinated to make sure we don’t spread diseases to our family and friends,” said Brady
Even pregnant women should get the flu shot, according to Harper.
The flu likes to be around a crowd, for example the Lost Lake Festival, sports games, any activities that bring people close together.
“Particularly in Arizona we have such a high winter visitor population, that when it becomes contagious many more people are exposed to it than normally would,” said Harper.
In fact, more than 44 million people visit Arizona each year, reported VisitPhoenix.com.
With the dry desert environment here in Arizona, Brady said, “The virus spreads more in dry weather.”
The truth is the flu virus does not discriminate between healthy and unhealthy people.
“Whenever we talk about the flu, people say they are healthy, active, exercise, eat right and get enough sleep and that’s good, but the flu virus is still there and you can get infected and infect others,” said Machrina Leach, BSN, RN, Nurse Program Manager at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.
The flu shot is readily available at mostly all pharmacies, ranging from CVS to Walgreens.
Harper suggests that within 48 hours of seeing flu symptoms such as, fever, body aches, cough and sore throat, to seek medical attention right away. The first 48 hours are crucial.
Leach said, Dr. Louis, an infection disease doctor always equates the flu shot to a bulletproof vest.
“If my son or nephew came up to me and said, you know, I’m not going to wear that bulletproof vest as a police officer, because the vest is only 40% effective. I would tell him, yes you are,” said Leach referring to Dr. Louis.
The flu is preventable, and even if it’s not 100% effective, it still could potentially be a life-saving decision.