Flu Spreading Nationwide with 'Unparalleled' Speed
The Centers for Disease Control says that the flu virus sweeping the nation has arrived earlier than usual and is spreading at an "unparalleled" speed.
Fatalities are mounting and several big cities have declared flu emergencies.
In New York and New Jersey, which contain some of the nation's most congested areas, the flu has spread earlier and faster than any time in the past decade. New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley told New Yorkers to visit their doctor's office for treatment, rather than increasingly busy emergency rooms.
During last year's flu season, 4,400 cases were reported in the state; so far this season, there have been more than 15,000. Hospitalizations are up 169% from the same period last year. Reports of patient visits for influenza-like illness from was 6.82%, more than three times higher than usual. Hospitals said flu cases among their in-patients was up 55% over the last week in December.
But there were rays of hope. The New York State Health Department reported that last week's total of 4,059 reported cases of laboratory-confirmed flu represented a 7% decrease from the previous week.
Massachusetts's picture was not so bright. Boston has declared a public health emergency. The city has had more than 700 cases of flu — "the worst season we've seen since 2009," according to Mayor Thomas Menino. The city plans a free vaccination campaign this weekend in an effort to slow the virus spread. The mayor pleaded with people, "If you're sick, please stay home from work or school."
Each year, vaccine manufacturers make an educated guess about the strains of flu likely to circulate worldwide. CDC Director Tom Frieden says that even if the vaccine is not perfect, "it is, by far, the best tool we have to prevent influenza, which remains a serious and potentially fatal disease."
But last year the season was the mildest flu season on record so people may have been lulled into skipping the vaccine. -- and forgetting how vile influenza can be.
"The average person forgot what influenza is like," says William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who describes this year's season as only "moderately" severe.
Not to Pat Meadors, network director of emergency department. at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital."This is the worst flu season I've seen in all my practicing years," said Meadors who graduated from medical school 35 years ago.
If you are planning on getting a flu shot -- and given the severity of this year's flu strain it would be a good idea to do so -- be aware that supplies are growing short:
Sanofi SA, the largest flu vaccine provider in the United States, said on Thursday it had sold out of four of the six different dosages of Fluzone seasonal flu vaccine due to unanticipated late-season demand. The vaccine is made in different sized vials and pre-filled syringes.
"At this point we are not able to make any more vaccine because we are gearing up for next year's vaccine," said Michael Szumera, a spokesman for Sanofi.
Most of the United States is nearing peak levels seen during moderately severe flu seasons, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. As of last Friday, the percentage of people seeing health care providers for influenza had increased for the previous four consecutive weeks to 5.6 percent. That compares with 2.2 percent the previous year, when flu was mild.
"We are hearing of spot shortages. Given the time in our flu season, it isn't surprising. People who haven't been vaccinated and want to get the vaccine may have to look in several places for it," CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said on Thursday.
It is not unusual to run out mid-season during a moderate to severe season, which is what this year looks like, he said.
I work at home now so I'm not exposed to the virus as I used to be when I worked in an office. But if there was one thing I hated was when people came to work, sick as a dog, coughing and sneezing all over everybody. It is disrespectful of your fellow employees to come in to work when you are infectious. When I worked in retail I would routinely send sick people home.
Unless you are a superhero and must save the world on a daily basis, please don't go into work and infect your friends and co-workers if you have the flu. They can get along without you for a couple of days, promise.