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This flu season is the most severe since 2009

October 22, 2019


>>Sreenivasan: THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION HAS DECLARED THIS YEAR’S FLU OUTBREAK TO BE THE WORST ON RECORD SINCE SWINE FLU IN 2009, AND IT ONLY SEEMS TO BE GETTING WORSE. LAST WEEK ALONE, ONE IN 15 DOCTORS APPOINTMENTS IN THE UNITED STATES WAS FOR THE FLU. THIS WEEK, SEVEN CHILDREN DIED OF THE FLU, BRINGING THE TOTAL FOR THIS SEASON TO 37 CHILDREN. THE C.D.C. PREDICTS THERE ARE STILL SEVERAL WEEKS TO GO IN THE FLU SEASON. FOR SOME PERSPECTIVE, I’M JOINED BY STEPHEN FERRARA, AN ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF NURSING AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER HERE IN NEW YORK. WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS YEAR’S FLU?>>WHAT WE’RE SEEING THIS YEAR IS A LOT OF THE STRAIN OF FLU IS H3N2. THAT IS A STRAIN OF INFLUENZA, AND THIS STRAIN WE KNOW IT TENDS TO BE MORE SEVERE.>>Sreenivasan: EARLIER THIS YEAR, WE HEARD THAT THERE WAS A LOW LEVEL OF EFFICACY BASED ON SOMETHING THAT WAS HAPPENING IN AUSTRALIA. CLEAR THAT UP FOR US.>>YEAH. SO, A REPORT CAME OUT OF AUSTRALIA THAT THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE VACCINE WAS ABOUT 10%. NOW, WE DON’T HAVE FINAL NUMBERS. WE DON’T EVEN HAVE PRELIMINARY NUMBERS HERE IN THE UNITED STATES YET. WHAT WE BELIEVE, OUR BEST GUESSTIMATE, IS ABOUT 30%, SOMEWHERE ABOUT 30% EFFECTIVENESS, WHICH BY ALL MEANS IS STILL NOT PERFECT, BUT BETTER THAN WHAT IS BEING REPORTED DOWN IN AUSTRALIA.>>Sreenivasan: ARE THERE BENEFITS, EVEN IF YOU GET THE VACCINE AND THEN YOU GET THE FLU AFTER IT?>>YES. WHAT OUR STUDIES HAVE SHOWN IS THAT THOSE WHO DO GET THE VIRUS AFTER GETTING VACCINATED TEND TO NOT HAVE A SEVERE ILLNESS.>>Sreenivasan: ARE WE WORKING OR ARE WE ANY CLOSER TO A UNIVERSAL VACCINE SO, YOU KNOW, THERE’S NOT THIS GUESSING GAME TIME AND AGAIN?>>RIGHT. WE’RE WORKING ON IT, BUT WE ARE YEARS AWAY FROM THAT BEING EFFECTIVE. WE STILL GROW THE INFLUENZA VIRUS PREDOMINANTLY IN EGG PROTEIN. WHAT’S ADVANTAGEOUS ABOUT THAT IS THAT WE’RE ABLE TO PRODUCE A LOT OF VACCINE. IN FACT, THIS YEAR, 151 MILLION DOSES HAVE SHIPPED.>>Sreenivasan: ONE OF THE THINGS WE DON’T RECOGNIZE VERY OFTEN IS THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY DIE OF INFLUENZA EVERY YEAR.>>UH-HUH.>>Sreenivasan: JUST A FEW YEARS AGO, WHEN IT WAS PRETTY BAD, 56,000 PEOPLE DIED IN THAT YEAR.>>YEAH.>>Sreenivasan: AND THOSE ARE NUMBERS THAT WE TALK ABOUT IN TERMS OF THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC, IN TERMS OF CAR CRASHES.>>THAT’S RIGHT. THE FLU IS… SHOULD BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY. THE BEST WAY TO PROTECT OURSELVES IS THROUGH VACCINATION. AND REALLY, IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO GET THE INFLUENZA VACCINE RIGHT NOW.>>Sreenivasan: AND THAT YEAR, THERE WAS ALSO, I READ, 710,000 HOSPITALIZATIONS. SO, IT PROGRESSES PRETTY QUICKLY. IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE GETTING THESE SYMPTOMS, WHAT’S THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO? ARE THERE MEDICATIONS THAT YOU CAN TAKE ONCE YOU’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF IT?>>THERE ARE ANTIVIRAL MEDICATIONS THAT ARE AVAILABLE TODAY THAT HELP TO REDUCE THE SEVERITY OF THE FLU AND THE DURATION OF IT. NOW, THIS ISN’T NECESSARILY RECOMMENDED FOR EVERYONE, BUT IT’S RECOMMENDED FOR THOSE WHO WOULD MOST LIKELY DEVELOP SEVERE COMPLICATIONS FROM THE FLU. SO, THOSE OVER 65, THE YOUNG, THOSE WHO HAVE DIABETES OR HEART DISEASE SHOULD DEFINITELY GET THOSE ANTIVIRAL MEDICATIONS. AND WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT IS THAT THE EARLIER, THE BETTER. SO, REALLY, WITHIN THOSE FIRST 48 HOURS OF SYMPTOMS IS THE IDEAL TIME TO TAKE THOSE MEDICATIONS.>>Sreenivasan: ALL RIGHT, STEPHEN FERRARA, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, THANKS SO MUCH.>>THANK YOU.

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