Why is the Flu So Bad this Year?
Posted: January 16, 2018
The prognosticators were right: this flu season is hitting the U.S. hard. Influenza has spread to all corners of the nation with emergency rooms filled to the brim and pharmacies running out of virus-combating medicines.
A Sniffly Holiday Season
Visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads? More like stuffy noses, fevers and coal miner coughs. If it seemed like everyone’s social media post included some reference to being sick and hunkering down at home during the holiday season, it wasn’t fever-clouded delusions.
As of last week, 11,718 new laboratory-confirmed tests were reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with at least 106 people, including 20 children, dying from the infectious virus. With numbers having already climbed to 60,161 compared to 38,244 last year, it’s apparent that this season is reaching epidemic proportions.
The Golden State is dealing with one of the country’s most severe seasons. At least 27 Californians younger than 65, have died of flu-related causes since October.
Influenza isn’t just a bad cold. The highly contagious respiratory illness, which is caused by influenza viruses, can result in hospitalization or death. For the elderly, young children and individuals with compromised immune systems, the virus can be difficult to combat.
We wrote about the predictions back in August and September when Australia was dealing with a record-breaking epidemic earlier than usual. Now, experts say, this is the first time the entire continental U.S. is experiencing the same level of flu activity at the same time. Since just last week, the numbers have jumped by 5.8 percent.
Collect and Test
There are three main types of influenza viruses that cause infections in humans, including A, B and C and many sub-types or strains. This year it appears that Influenza A subtype H3N2 is the most prevalent. H3N2 presents itself with more-severe flu symptoms including fever and body aches.
Properly diagnosing influenza is not only crucial to ensuring that patients receive proper and effective treatment but also to prevent the spread of the highly contagious infection. Sample collection is an important part of that pre-analytical process. COPAN focuses on the importance of a sample collected properly. Over the years, COPAN has worked with numerous point-of care providers and infection control professionals to create training videos showcasing proper techniques for collection of respiratory specimens. Among the educational resources produced by COPAN Diagnostics, Inc., is a set of videos created for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and The Joint Commission used for sample collection for influenza diagnosis and treatment in ambulatory settings for healthcare providers.
COPAN’s UTM™ Universal Transport Media, coupled with flocked swabs (FLOQSwabs™), are the optimal combination for the collection, transport and maintenance of the virus in order to identify the specific strains of influenza. While the FLOQSwabs™ make sample collection easier and more effective, UTM™ helps laboratories maintain the specimen while in transit and prior to testing.
Because symptoms vary from patient-to-patient and often mimic other illnesses, the viruses are difficult to detect. In addition, influenza must be detected within the first few days of illness to ensure effective patient treatment within the therapeutic window.
Not Too Late to Vaccinate
That the “flu shot doesn’t work” may be the common refrain echoed on message boards and social media, but that’s a simple, and inaccurate conclusion to a more complicated question. Influenza viruses constantly mutate, therefore every year the medical community reviews the predominant viruses circulating and prepares a new vaccine based on that information.
Sometimes the dominant flu strain ends up being different than the one anticipated and therefore the shot isn’t as successful. On average, the vaccine is between 40 to 60 percent effective, although some estimate that this year’s shot may only end up being on the 10 percent end of the scale. Final numbers won’t be available until the end of the season. Still, experts say the vaccine will lessen the severity and longevity of the illness.
And even though we’re in the midst of the flu season, which usually peaks between December and February, it’s not too late to get a shot. In addition to the vaccine, washing hands regularly, covering the mouth and nose when sneezing, and staying home when sick, will help prevent the spread of the viruses.
Contact COPAN today to learn more about the best devices to collect and transport system for influenza viruses.