This Year’s Flu Season

Breaking News: Flu activity has “increased.” (see below)

There is now widespread flu activity in 49 states.
There is now widespread flu activity in 49 states.

While flu season typically peaks in February, it is very important to understand that there are few things that are typical about the flu.

Since 1982, while we have been twice as likely to see a flu activity peak in February than other winter months, we have been just as likely to get that peak in December, January, or March. That makes it important to get your flu vaccine as soon as you can.

You really never know if it is going to be an early, average, or late flu season.

Flu Facts

There will likely be some surprises this flu season – there always are – but there are some things that you can unfortunately count on.

Among these flu facts include that:

  • there have been over 1,600 pediatric flu deaths since the 2003-04 flu season, including 110 flu deaths last year
  • about 113 kids die of the flu each year – most of them unvaccinated
  • antiviral flu medicines, such as Tamiflu, while recommended to treat high-risk people, including kids under 2 to 5 years of age, have very modest benefits at best (they don’t do all that much, are expensive, don’t taste good, and can have side effects, etc.)
  • a flu vaccine is the best way to decrease your child’s chances of getting the flu

And even in a mild flu season, a lot of kids get sick with the flu.

What about reports that the flu shot will be only 10% effective?

“The majority of the influenza viruses collected from the United States during October 1, 2017 through January 6, 2018 were characterized antigenically and genetically as being similar to the cell-grown reference viruses representing the 2017–18 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine viruses.”

CDC Situation Update

Don’t believe them. The flu vaccine works and besides, it has many benefits beyond keeping you from getting the flu.

This Year’s Flu Season

When does flu season start?

In general, flu season starts when you begin to see people around you with signs and symptoms of the flu, including fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue, etc. To be more accurate, you can also look at reports for flu activity in your area, especially the weekly reports from the CDC. Those flu reports can also help you determine when flu season ends.

As of early January, the CDC again reported that “flu activity increased in the United States.” It is obvious now that we are having an early flu season this year. And with an H3N2 predominant strain, we can also predict that it is not going to be a mild season. Worst season ever? Probably not.

That leaves the next big questions – when will flu season peak and when will it be over?

The CDC has also recently reported that:

  • 49 states are already reporting widespread flu activity – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
  • no states are now reporting regional flu activity – Hawaii
  • only the District of Columbia and one state is now reporting local flu activity (up from none last week) – Hawaii
  • no states are now reporting sporadic flu activity
  • no states still have no flu activity
  • between 151 to 166 million doses of flu vaccine will be available this year, including 130 million doses of thimerosal-free or preservative-free flu shots, so the great majority of flu shots will not contain mercury!
  • we still won’t have a nasal spray flu vaccine in the US this year, even though it is working well in other countries
  • although it is too early to tell how well the flu vaccine will work, it is good news that “The majority of the influenza viruses collected from the United States during October 1, 2017 through January 13, 2018 were characterized antigenically and genetically as being similar to the cell-grown reference viruses representing the 2017–18 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine viruses.”
  • there have already been 30 pediatric flu deaths this year, including ten new pediatric death this past week

Have you and your family gotten been vaccinated and protected against the flu yet?

“CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an injectable flu vaccine as soon as possible.”

CDC Influenza Situation Update

If not, this a great time to get a flu vaccine.

Remember that while this is a bad flu season, it is comparable to other recent H3N2 seasons, especially the 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons.

“Indicators used to track influenza-like-activity (ILI) are similar to what was seen during the peak of the 2014-2015 season, a season of high severity. The overall hospitalization rate is high also, but still lower than the overall hospitalization rate reported during the same week of the 2014-2015 season.”

CDC Influenza Situation Update

And there are indicators that it won’t be as bad as those severe seasons.

Hopefully, this year’s season is also close to peaking…

Recent Flu Seasons

Are H3N2 predominant flu seasons really worse than others?

  • 2003-04 flu season – 152 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2004-05 flu season – 47 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2005-06 flu season – 46 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2006-07 flu season – 77 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2007-08 flu season – 88 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2008-09 flu season – 137 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2009-10 flu season – 289 pediatric flu deaths (swine flu pandemic)
  • 2010-11 flu season – 123 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2011-12 flu season – 37 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2012-13 flu season – 171 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2013-14 flu season – 111 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2014-15 flu season – 148 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2015-16 flu season – 92 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2016-17 flu season – 110 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)

In addition to high levels of pediatric flu deaths, the CDC reports that the four flu seasons that were H3N2-predominant in recent years were “the four seasons with the highest flu-associated mortality levels in the past decade.”

For More Information on the 2017-18 Flu Season

Updated January 20, 2018

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