The weather may be sunny and temperate, the seasonal foliage a slowly changing delight to behold. But the savvy are prepping for sterner days ahead. It’s that time of year when doctors and public health officials urge us all to get that annual flu shot.
It’s never easy to forecast the severity with which influenza will sweep the country. But early indications — including a child’s death already attributed to the illness — suggest this may be a bad year for the bug.
Don’t downplay the harms of this all-too-common sickness: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there were as many as 43 million flu illnesses in this nation in the 2018-19 season, with more than 20 million cases serious enough to cause patients to seek medical care. The CDC says there were as many as 647,000 hospitalizations and up to 61,200 flu-related deaths. That toll included more than 100 children killed by flu.
Last year’s flu season was the longest in a decade, lasting 21 weeks, the CDC also reported. Influenza-like illnesses began increasing in November and peaked mid-February, returning to below baseline in mid-April.
Let’s also not forget that historians record that the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the deadliest known in history, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—a third of the planet’s population—and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans.
For those with hesitancy about vaccinations, including shots for the flu, there are ample resources and reasons to explain why inoculations have been one of the major health boons in recent history.
The vaccine opposition relies on fear, extreme views and emotions, and it is not based in science or evidence. Public health officials and states have cracked down on exemptions to requirements that youngsters get a range of vaccinations before enrolling in school. This has fueled angry reactions from a vocal minority of parents. But tough vaccination requirements, doctors and medical scientists say, have helped safeguard the collective health, buttressing the “herd immunity” imparted on the many when most get protected from contagions.
Meantime, due to anti-vaccination sentiments and other causes, outbreaks of vaccine-preventable infections have been on the rise, including the largest number of measles cases in a quarter century and incidences of Hepatitis A (more than 25,000 cases in 30 states), typhus, and other “medieval” scourges.
The many confirmed measles cases, which have subsided in recent days, have set off experts’ alarms, not only because they may signal a waning in a long, expensive campaign to effectively eradicate the disease but also because the infections may lead to others. As National Public Radio reported:
“There’s mounting evidence that when a person is infected with measles, the virus also wipes out the immune system’s memory of how to fight off all sorts of other life-threatening infections – ranging from gastro-intestinal bugs that cause diarrhea to respiratory viruses that trigger pneumonia. ‘All of the sudden you end up having not just more outbreaks of measles, but you might have more outbreaks of rubella or flu or any number of other diseases,’ says Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard professor who has authored some of the most ground-breaking research into this so-called ‘immune-amnesia’ effect from measles.”
In my practice, I see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, and long experience has underscored for me the major benefits they can see by staying healthy and away from the health care system with its significant risks of error and other injury. Please get the flu shot soon, certainly before Thanksgiving and maybe well before October ends. Vaccinations typically are covered by health insurance. They’re given by many employers, at drug store clinics, and often at health fairs and other public events. The shots are especially recommended for seniors and youngsters, as well as those with health challenges.
Health officials are working to improve the vaccinations, making their development faster and safer, especially to decrease problems for folks with allergies to eggs used in vaccine development. Check with your doctor, so you can get a flu shot from her and be sure you’re up to date on all your vaccinations while you are at it. Protect your loved ones, especially the children, and friends and colleagues by ensuring they get the flu shot and that they, too, are current with recommended inoculations.
The calendar after Labor Day always seems to become a blur of activities, many of them fun and enjoyable, so you may wish to think about other common sense precautions to safeguard your health: Wash your hands and keep them clean. Cover your mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing. Get the sleep your body needs and eat well and exercise. If you’re sick, please stay home and don’t infect others. Keep your kids out of school if they’re ailing, too.
It will take some effort, but here’s hoping that we all stay happy, healthy, and bug free throughout 2019 and beyond!