On the 12th of this month the CDC presented an update on the 2017-2018 flu season.
On the 12th of this month the CDC presented an update on the 2017-2018 flu season. They indicated that the flu season has started early and is predominantly due to a strain of Type A flu known as H3N2. In the years that this type of influenza dominates there tend to be more severe cases, and more deaths among young people. The cases this year are similar in severity and timing to the 2012-2013 season, and not as bad as the 2014-2015 season. That season the vaccine was less effective than usual. This season the vaccine was a little better--about 30% effective by most accounts--but not the 40 percent effectiveness that is usual. The CDC has a tracking system that has been in place for 13 years, and by that measure there have been only two seasons of high severity, 2003-2004 and 2014-2015. This year is the first time, however, that every part of the continental United States has widespread flu activity.
If you get the flu you may--or you may not--benefit from an antiviral drug such as the brand name Tamiflu. The CDC recommends that not everyone needs to get antiviral drugs, but there are certain people who should, "People who are very sick or people with flu symptoms who are high-risk for serious flu complications should be treated as soon as possible with flu antiviral drugs. Who are those people? That means people that are 65 and older. It means young children. It means people with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease or asthma. It means pregnant women and others more vulnerable to serious flu illness. Clinicians should not wait for confirmed testing, but they should begin treatment if they suspect flu in a severely ill or high-risk patient." Flu screening tests are not always available, and have at least a 10 percent false negative rate. In other words, if 10 people who actually do have the flu are screened with one of these office tests, one of these 10--on average--will test negative. There are side effects from antiviral medications, which is the main reason that I do not prescribe them to everyone that has the flu. These side effects most commonly are headache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. However, there are serious reactions including delirium and bizarre behavior in addition to allergic and other immunologic reactions.
At their meeting, some in the CDC expressed the opinion that we may have already seen the peak in flu activity for the season. We hope that is true. So far the flu has been mostly Type A H3N2, but as time passes, Type B is becoming more common. The practical significance of this is that you can get the flu more than once this year. Even though catching the predominant H3N2 strain will give you immunity from that strain, you can catch Type B or another strain of Type A. So it is not too late to get the vaccine, if you haven't. Also there are things that you can do to keep healthy. Stay away from people who are sick, either by encouraging them to stay home or avoiding the places they go. Also stay well hydrated, as it makes the mucosal surfaces in your body healthier and better able to resist the virus. Get plenty of sleep and do the other things that promote a healthy immune system, such as getting proper nutrition and avoiding or reducing emotional stress. Finally, the drugs such as Tamiflu can be used prophylactically, usually for 10 days at a time, but in some cases for up to 12 weeks in order to try and prevent the flu.
This article is intended to provide general information only, and is not to be taken as medical advice. For advice about a particular case or situation, consult your own physician or other trusted health professional.
Dr. Bundrant is the chief of staff at Ballinger Memorial Hospital. He is a member of the Health and Wellness Coalition of Runnels County which is comprised of health care professionals throughout the county. Members meet on the first Thursday of the first full week of the month.