How bad is the 2017-18 influenza season?
The director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases told Bloomberg News that it was the first time the entire continental United States was the same color on the agency’s flu graph. Translation: It’s everywhere, at the highest levels since health agencies started keeping track a dozen years ago.
The Los Angeles Times had a particularly jarring headline on its website: “California Hospitals Face a ‘War Zone’ of Flu Patients.” The headline topped a story relating how hospitals there are literally having to set up tents in the parking lot to handle overflow cases.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention insists the outbreak either has peaked or is close to that point, flu season won’t end for another three months, and there are fears that other strains of the disease might materialize.
Reassuring, isn’t it?
So, what should people do?
First, take this seriously. As bad as it makes you feel, flu generally is a few days’ annoyance for most folks. It also, at its worst, has the capability of killing patients, especially the very young and old.
Second, get a flu shot, unless you are allergic to the vaccine. We know it’s not effective until a couple of weeks after it’s administered, and its effectiveness apparently is suspect this year -- but doctors and health officials still strongly advise it.
Manufacturers cook up a different vaccine annually based on their best guesstimate of the predominant strains of the disease for that year. (There are three basic types of influenza -- A, B and C -- but they are bad to mutate into countless strains.) This year’s No. 1 strain is H3N2, which is included in this year’s vaccine but is one of the types most prone to mutation.
The shot is covered by most insurance carriers and there are cheap, if not free, options for others. We see it as simply playing the odds. Say it’s only 10 percent, 20 percent or even 30 percent effective. That’s better than zilch.
Third, remember and practice the health hygienic precautions that should be in place even if there isn’t an epidemic percolating. The CDC’s list: Keep your distance from people who are sick; stay home from work or school when you’re sick; cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; wash or sanitize your hands often; try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth; and make sure to get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids and eat right.
Finally, health officials have asked those who get the flu to make their doctor’s office or a walk-in clinic their first stop instead of the emergency room to allow hospitals to focus on truly serious or problematic cases.
This will pass. Do your part to ease the way.