Flu season not backing down: State nears record-breaking numbers


DOVER — The number of Delawareans who have been infected with the flu virus continues to rise and there are no indications of a slowdown on the horizon.

The Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) reported on Sunday that there were 1,268 lab-confirmed flu cases recorded in the state between Feb. 4 through Feb. 10.

That brings the season’s total in the state to 4,235.

Last season’s final figure of 4,590 flu cases was the highest number of seasonal cases since the state began keeping records in 2004.

Last year’s record is easily within reach by this year’s big numbers.

“This is a terribly difficult flu season, as evidenced not only by the sheer number of flu-cases, but also the growing number of flu-related deaths, said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the DPH.

“While people may feel helpless and believe there is nothing they can do to make this situation better, every one of us has as active role to play.

“There are specific things each of us can do to prevent further spread of everyday germs, and in particular, the influenza virus.”

The DPH announced eight flu-related deaths, six of which took place from Feb. 4 through Feb. 10, and another pair that occurred earlier in the season but were just recently reported.

The most recent deaths bring the season’s total number of flu-related fatalities to 18.

All six individuals who died from Feb. 4 through Feb. 10 last were from New Castle County, ranged from age 44 to 89 years old, and none had gotten a flu vaccine this year. All but one had underlying health conditions.

Of the two deaths that occurred previously, both victims were from Kent County. One, a 66-year old male, died in January and the second, a 71-year old female, died earlier in February.

Both had multiple underlying health conditions and neither had been vaccinated.

Delaware mirrors nation

The high rate of Delawareans who are coming down with the flu mirrors that of an outbreak across the entire United States.

While officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there are signs that flu activity may be declining along the West Coast, overall, influenza-like-illness increased again throughout the United States and the nation will likely continue to see elevated flu activity for weeks to come.

The CDC said there have been a total of 19,398 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations reported between Oct. 1, 2017 and Feb. 10, 2018.

Nationally, the number of doctor visits for flu-like symptoms for the week ending Feb. 10 accounted for 7.5 percent of medical appointments, according to the CDC.

“Unfortunately, it looks like this flu season continues to be particularly challenging,” said Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC. “Our latest tracking data indicate that influenza activity is still on the rise overall. In fact, we may be on track to beat some recent records.

“I just want to recognize that we know this issue is personal to so many Americans and that there is a lot of fear and alarm about this flu season.

“There have been far too many heart-wrenching stories in recent weeks about families who have lost loved ones to influenza.”

She noted that a total of 84 children have died nationally due to the flu this season.

While doctor’s offices have been extremely busy this flu season, employers and school districts have reported an increase in absences, due to the high flu levels.

Dr. Schuchat said that it is a difficult balancing act for both employers and schools to achieve.

“It’s such a difficult dilemma for people,” she said. “We know that no one wants to lose their jobs for being sick. The employers that have policies that are good for their workers can actually be good for the workplace.

“We have seen some schools that have dismissed students because too many people are sick to keep the school going. This kind of season is really hard on families, communities and workers as well.”

Dr. Rattay said the DPH has been in contact with local school districts in Delaware.

“We sent out a letter to all the schools in the state (in early February) with instructions on how to best mitigate the high levels of flu and other viral activity,” said Dr. Rattay.

“At this point there is no reason for any of the schools to close, but getting out the information on preventative guidance is important.”

Dr. Rattay said that if a person is sick that they should not go to school or work until they are fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication.

She said they should call their primary care provider, or visit a walk-in center, as soon as symptoms develop, as they may choose to prescribe antivirals for treatment without an office visit.

Dr. Rattay also reminded people to wash their hands frequently and wipe down frequently touched surfaces with soap and water or disinfecting products. People should cough or sneeze into tissues or their inner elbow if tissues are not available.

Never too late to vaccinate

Dr. Rattay also said it is not too late to get a flu vaccination to prevent catching the flu.

While some individual medical providers are reporting a shortage of the flu vaccine, it is not believed to be wide spread.

Residents are urged to first contact their primary care provider for a shot. Children ages 9 and older can get their flu shot at local pharmacies.

Additionally, Delawareans can visit flu.delaware.gov/ or call DPH at 1-800-282-8672 for a list of Public Health Clinics within state service centers that are providing the vaccine.

The CDC released the results of early vaccine effectiveness studies for the 2017-18 season last Thursday.

Overall vaccine effectiveness was 36 percent. That means a vaccinated person’s risk of having to go to the doctor because of flu was reduced by more than one-third.

Effectiveness was 25 percent against A strain – H3N2, 67 percent against A strain – H1N1 and 42 percent against influenza B viruses.

Of note, vaccine effectiveness was much higher in children 6 months through 8 years of age: overall effectiveness against influenza A and B viruses was 59 percent and it was 51 percent effective specifically against H3N2.

“We continue to recommend getting the flu vaccine to prevent flu,” Dr. Schuchat said. “I know there are ongoing concerns about whether the flu vaccine is effective this year, and it’s true that flu vaccines often have lower effectiveness against H3N2 viruses.

“However, some protection is better than none. Plus, the vaccine’s effectiveness against other flu viruses, like B and H1N1, is better.

“Because of the ongoing intensity of the flu season and the increasing circulation of influenza B and H1N1, we continue to recommend vaccination even this late in the season.”

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