The 2017-2018 flu season is now an epidemic — a unusually deadly epidemic:
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declared this season an epidemic, stating the illness is widespread in at least 39 states.
- Although the flu season hasn’t even peaked yet, CDC epidemiologist Lynnette Brammer said more hospitalizations are being reported and deaths are increasing: “We are starting to see cases of severe disease and we are seeing excess deaths“.
- California public health officials said the number of deaths and hospitalizations is higher than normal. During the week of Jan. 14, 23 people reportedly died from the flu in the state, bringing this season’s total to 97 deaths. For some perverse reason, neither California nor the CDC record flu deaths among people over the age of 65, which means the number of deaths due to the flu and complications (pneumonia and sepsis) is much higher.
Whereas flu victims typically are older people (age 65 and older) and infants (age 5 and younger), what makes this flu season alarming are two things:
- People younger than 65 (and older than 5) have died.
- Death comes quickly, in some cases after only 2 days of the flu.
(1) Dylan Winnik, 12, of Palm Beach County, Florida. He died of the flu on January 21, 2018, just two days after he had fallen ill with what his parents thought was the common cold because his symptoms were mild.
(2) Jonah Smith, 17, died December 29, 2017 in Arizona when his heart stopped beating in the backseat of his sister’s car. Smith’s family said he showed no flu-like symptoms except he had complained of a backache. He continued to go to work at a fast-food restaurant and see friends. Doctors said Smith had the flu and pneumonia, and that he might have had “an underlying medical condition,” but the teen was not known to have one.
(3) Kyler Baughmen, 21, died five days after he became sick on December 23, 2017, with a mild cough and runny nose. The body builder celebrated Christmas and went back to work on December 26. The following day, he was rushed to the hospital. He died on December 28 from kidney failure due to septic shock caused by the flu.
(4) Katharine Gallagher, 27, died December 5, 2017 in Tustin, California, five days after she first experienced flu-like symptoms on Thursday night. She went to the doctor on Sunday, and was sent home with antibiotics. Two days later, after she appeared to be getting better that morning, her boyfriend found her dead on the bathroom floor — from severe acute bronchial pneumonia.
(5) Tandy Harmon, 36, died just two days after she went to the hospital with flu symptoms. On January 17, the Oregon mother-of-two in Oregon went to the hospital with flu symptoms, but was told to go home to rest and hydrate. Hours later, Harmon was back in the emergency room, where she quickly declined and had to be placed on life support by that evening. She died two days later on January 19, from MRSA and pneumonia.
(6) Katie Oxley Thomas, 40, of San Jose, California, died of the flu just 48 hours after falling ill. The mother-of-three and marathon runner’s condition declined so quickly that she was moved to intensive care, placed on life support and died all in the span of 15 hours on January 4, 2018. Her family said she had received a flu shot.
(7) Jenny Ching, 51, went to the hospital in Massachusetts with flu-like symptoms. After being diagnosed with the flu she developed an infection and pneumonia. The mother-of-two died on January 6, 2018, just a week after being diagnosed.
There are four flu strains:
- The dominant flu strain is H3N2, which often signals a severe season that affects the oldest and the youngest the hardest. CDC epidemiologist Brammer said, “We probably haven’t seen H3N2 peak yet.”
- Influenza A is predominating in California.
- H1N1 virus
- Influenza B: Brammer said it’s possible we will see a wave of H1N1 and influenza B before the season is over.
Brammer claims that this year’s vaccine contains all the circulating viruses. However, the vaccine is not very effective against H3N2. Dr. Michael Osterholm, who directs The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the vaccine is, at best, only 10% effective on H3N2.
What to do:
- Wash hands often.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Stay home if you’re sick.
- Given the virulence of this season’s flu epidemic, if you get sick, get medical help ASAP. Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza are effective only if taken early.