Each year, according to the World Health Organization, influenza causes about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths. The majority of the deaths associated with influenza occur among people age 65 or older. In addition, it causes 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness worldwide. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, influenza infected 2 to 5 million individuals, hospitalized more than 200,000 people, and was the cause of death for 36,000 individuals last year. Ninety-five influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported to CDC for the 2016-17 season.
As of last week, Montana reported 14 cases of influenza, with several individuals hospitalized. Missoula County reported four cases. The numbers are expected to rise.
Symptoms associated with influenza range from a cough, runny nose, congestion, headaches, fever, chills, muscle aches, shortness of breath, sore throat or swollen lymph nodes to more severe symptoms.
Influenza can be especially dangerous for the young, elderly, pregnant and individuals with chronic medical conditions. Besides the health issues related to infection with influenza, influenza epidemics will cause high levels of worker/school absenteeism and productivity losses. Hospitals and clinics can be overwhelmed during peak illness periods.
The best prevention from influenza is immunization. Safe and effective vaccines have been in use for more than 60 years. For healthy individuals, the vaccine provides protection, even when the circulating virus is not an exact match for the virus. Today’s vaccine cannot cause influenza. The vaccine is made either with a flu virus that has been inactivated and is not infectious, or is a recombinant vaccine, which is produced through DNA technology, with no flu virus. The live influenza vaccine used last year is not offered this year. The vaccine starts to provide protection two weeks after administration and is designed to last one season.
Each year the vaccine components are determined by the current strains that are circulating.
The four influenza strains for 2017/2018 include:
• A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
• A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2) like virus
• B/Phuket/3073/2013 (B Yamagata lineage)
• B/Brisbane/60/2008 (B Victoria lineage)
Not all influenza vaccines are made in egg embryo. This allows more people the chance to receive the vaccine.
Still, not everyone is able to be vaccinated for influenza. That is why it is very important that those who can receive the vaccine do so for everyone’s protection. An article from immunize.org describes the concept of cocooning. This is a term used frequently when talking about protecting babies from catching diseases from people around them. Once care givers are vaccinated, they are less likely to spread certain contagious diseases to the babies. This same concept can be used to help protect those in our community who cannot receive the influenza vaccination.
For those not able to be vaccinate, have to wait to be vaccinated or are not protected because it has not been two weeks post vaccination, there are steps that can be taken to prevent exposure to influenza. These steps include: Practice good hand hygiene, avoid those who are sick and clean your environment often. If you are exposed and develop symptoms of the flu, practice good hand hygiene, cover your cough, clean your environment and stay home while you are sick so that you do not expose others. Antiviral drugs for influenza are available, and may reduce the severity of the symptoms.
For more information on the flu, please see: CDC.gov, contact your care provider, pharmacy or your local health department.