Influenza Winter 2015 UPDATE:
Saturday, January 10, 1PM
The CDC has recently released the latest data on this year's influenza virus epidemic, and the news is very good.
Every week the CDC reports a comprehensive set of data on how many people are infected with the flu virus that week, how many are getting hospitalized ,and how many deaths this virus is causing, especially in children.
As we share this week's information with you, it is once again very important to keep in mind that only a minority of a winter's colds and flus are caused by the influenza virus, in fact about 25-30%. All the other colds and flus we have are caused by all sorts of viruses, like the rhinovirus, adenovirus, RSV, etc. So all the news reports and all this data concern only the influenza virus.
The good news is that this winter's influenza epidemic is giving an early sign of weakening, of being past its peak.
Even more striking, the pattern of this year's influenza virus epidemic is matching the pattern of the epidemic of 2012-2013 almost exactly! This epidemic appeared in December and peaked around New Year's. The rise and fall of 2012-2013 is so far almost an exact match to this year's epidemic.
That means the worst of this year's influenza epidemic may be over and it is very reasonable to hope that the intensity is already fading.
Here is more good news: there are far fewer of the most frightening outcomes this year than in years past. The number of childhood deaths from influenza virus infection by this time of year in the 2012-2013 epidemic (which matches this year so closely) was about 50-60 deaths. This year that number has dropped to 26, across the whole country. To put that into further context, influenza virus infection typically kills about 20,000 people in the US every year, and this year that may only include <100 children.="" i="">100>
These data are especially important to know as the news and reporting on this year's influenza epidemic are giving a needlessly frightening message. If you read the paper, watch TV, or listen to the radio, the impression is that the United States is under the assault of a historically dangerous influenza outbreak with unprecedented levels of illness, risk of dying, and failure of flu vaccination.
None of these impressions are true. This year is very much like most others, lots of colds and flus circulating in the winter. The actual numbers are about the same as in 2012-2013 which was a year the generated almost no comment of worry, and the number of deaths in children is actually much lower than that year.
As for the impact of immunization, it is true that the most widespread subtype of the influenza virus circulating right now is not the exact form of the one in the vaccine, but even so, those vaccinated have a 50% of being protected from that strain.
Finally, to repeat our perspective on Tamiflu. There are three reasons to be cautious in its use:
- It is not free of side effects. Children especially are at risk for developing seizures, and it can cause serious behavioral disturbances.
- It does not deliver dramatic improvements consistently.
- If millions of relatively healthy people use it for most colds and flus, we hasten the day when even its limited efficacy is available.
Of course, if a person does develop a dangerous influenza infection, defined as one impairing the ability to get air in and out of your chest, or in some other way impaired in function, the use of Tamiflu is clearly worth the risk of its use despite its impact being limited.
1. This year's influenza epidemic is actually a rather typical winter flu season. Its magnitude and timing, so far, nearly exactly match the 2012-2013 epidemic which caused almost no comment at the time.
2. This year's influenza epidemic is giving early signs of being on the wane. If this turns out to hold up, we won't have much to talk about influenza in a few weeks.
3. The scary news reports on this year's influenza virus epidemic are highly misleading. These infections are overwhelmingly harmless to healthy children, the frightening reports of deadly infections in children fail to discuss just how rare this is. And, so far this year, fatal illness in children is quite a bit lower.
4. The flu immunizations have worked, those who got them, even this year, turned out to be less likely to get sick, and when ill had milder illness.
5. As with any illness, if you have serious troubles such as struggling to breath, severe pain, a stiff neck, dehydration, call for help.
We hope you and your family get through this winter in good health, and that any colds or flus you get- although unpleasant- remain harmless.
Happy and Healthy New Year,
Dr. Arthur Lavin
*Disclaimer* The comments contained in this electronic source of information do not constitute and are not designed to imply that they constitute any form of individual medical advice. The information provided is purely for informational purposes only and not relevant to any person's particular medical condition or situation. If you have any medical concerns about yourself or your family please contact your physician immediately. In order to provide our patients the best uninfluenced information that science has to offer,we do not accept samples of drugs, advertising tchotchkes, money, food, or any item from outside vendors.