Good news! The number of people infected with the influenza virus this year is very small compared to other years.
The influenza virus typically causes about 1/3 of all respiratory infections (e.g., colds, sinus infections, ear infections, pink eye, bronchitis, and pneumonia) during the winter. Usually, it hits our region of the world around December through April.
In most years, during the winter, we see a big explosion of respiratory infections as the influenza arrives, but not this year.
Good data from the CDC support the observation that there is barely an influenza epidemic in the US or Ohio this year, with dramatically fewer cases seen.
Now, why are we so lucky?
There are two possible explanations, both could be true together:
- This just happens to be a light year. Influenza infections are sometimes more common in one year than another, and this may just be a light year. Personally I am skeptical of this explanation because the drop in number of cases is so dramatic, but time will tell. If it is a random drop off, we will see the more typical epidemics in winters to come.
- The flu vaccine is working. Clearly, if enough people in a community or nation get the flu immunzation, it could actually eliminate influenza infections, or at least, sharply drop their numbers. We (the US) has been promoting influenza immunizations enough to suspect this is the cause.
Influenza infections occur only because of the influenza virus, and that virus sweeps across our region every December-April no matter the temperature, snow level, rain etc. We have seen very bad epidemics in warm winters and mild ones in cold winters. So weather, temperature, and moisture levels likely play no role.
Bottom Line: The winter of 2011-12 turns out to be a dramatically light one for influenza infections. Flu vaccine likely helped make that happen. Enjoy the lifting of the burdens of cold winters and of winter flus!
Dr. Arthur Lavin
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