STUMP » Articles » Get A Flu Shot: Last Year's Seasonal Flu Was the Worst in 40 Years » 3 October 2018, 16:54

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Get A Flu Shot: Last Year's Seasonal Flu Was the Worst in 40 Years  


3 October 2018, 16:54

Note that we’re not counting “pandemic” outbreaks like H1N1 in 2009, or the Spanish Flu, which occurred 100 years ago. This is just normal, seasonal flu.

And last season it was really bad.

The tally is in, and it’s 80,000. That’s just the deaths. That is not including 1 million hospitalizations.


If you’re like me, and you keep an eye on the CDC’s flu tracker, you know that the U.S. 2017-2018 flu season is coming to a close. Okay, fine, the bulks of the season ended months ago, but the official season runs from week 40 of the year (out of 52 weeks) to week 39 of the next year. Week 39 just ended last Friday.

Here’s the death tally.

Flu season deaths top 80,000 last year, CDC says

An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means it was the deadliest season in more than four decades — since 1976, the date of the first published paper reporting total seasonal flu deaths, said CDC Spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund.

In previous seasons, flu-related deaths have ranged from a low of about 12,000 during the 2011-2012 season to a high of about 56,000 during the 2012-2013.

Total flu fatalities during the most recent season included the deaths of 180 children, which exceeds the previous record high of 171 during a non-pandemic flu season, according to the CDC.

Of course, 180 out of 80,000 people sounds small, but as child deaths are so infrequent – the data from 2015 show only 3,965 deaths of children age 1-4, and only 5,411 deaths of children age 5-14, you can see how 180 deaths can really move the needle for such low child mortality.

Of course, most of those dying from the flu or pneumonia stemming from the flu were old:

Most — 90 percent — of the fatalities were in people over age 65.

A record 900,000 Americans were also estimated to be hospitalized, officials said at a National Foundation for Infectious Diseases news conference last week.

So, that is not a good thing.


Think You Don’t Need A Flu Shot? Here Are 5 Reasons To Change Your Mind

“Flu vaccinations save lives,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams told the crowd at an event to kick off flu vaccine awareness last week at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “That’s why it’s so important for everyone 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine every year.”

But many Americans ignore this advice. The U.S. vaccination rate hovers at about 47 percent a year. This is far below the 70 percent target. And college students are among the least vaccinated.

For instance, among students who don’t get the vaccine, 36 percent say that they are healthy and don’t need it, and 30 percent say they don’t think the vaccine is effective. Then, there’s the fear: 31 percent say they don’t like needles.

So, let’s do a reality check. If you’re on the fence about a flu shot, here are five arguments to twist your arm.

2. Getting a flu shot is your civic duty.

“Nobody wants to be the dreaded spreader,” says Schaffner. But everybody gets the flu from somebody else. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who have caught the flu virus are contagious one day before they start to feel sick and for up to seven days after. (Check out our video on flu contagion if you really need to be convinced!)

So getting the flu shot will help protect your family, friends and co-workers. “It’s the socially correct thing to do,” Schaffner says.

3. You can still get the flu, but you won’t be as sick.

After last winter’s severe season, some people are skeptical. They say: “I got the flu shot, but I still caught the flu.”

In fact, the 2017-18 season was the deadliest in more than 40 years. “We had a very vicious virus, the so-called H3N2 influenza strain,” says Schaffner.

And yes, it’s true that the vaccine does not offer complete protection. The CDC estimates that flu vaccination reduces the risk of the virus by about 40 to 60 percent. Think of it this way: If you catch the flu, the vaccine does still offer some protection. It cushions the blow. “Your illness is likely to be milder” if you’ve had a flu shot, says Schaffner. You’re less likely to get pneumonia, which is a major complication of the flu, and less likely to be hospitalized.

One of things not noted in the article: flu shots are cheap.

I happen to get mine at work, and have every year for the past 7 years. I am going to be taking my kids to an urgent care place, and my insurance is covering the shot.

But even without insurance – the shot is not expensive. CVS is offering a “free” flu shot, if you purchase at least $25 worth of goods there. Oh, and $5 off that $25. (I see it’s not valid in NY, but again, I’m taking my kids elsewhere).

Costco is offering flu shots for $20. Again, for most insurance, you’re going to get the shot for free.




I didn’t throw this into my prior post, but maybe it works better here. Two items from Think Advisor:

First, on our out-of-date vaccines: Our Flu Vaccine Stockpiles Are Full of Expired Components: Tammy Baldwin – from May of this year.

The U.S. program for preventing and fighting a severe influenza outbreak is low on funding and in terrible shape, according to Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Baldwin, D-Wis., today asked members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to help her provide $632 million in funding per year for influenza vaccination efforts at the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

Congress created BARDA in 2006 in an effort to set up a flexible, permanent program with the ability to respond to dangerous health problems, such Ebola outbreaks and flu pandemics. The current funding appropriation for BARDA expires in September. [as in, it would have expired already, unless it was renewed in the most recent budget bill]

Since 2006, funding for BARDA flu-fighting efforts has been poor, Baldwin said today at a Senate HELP hearing on S. 2852, the “Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2018″ (PAHPA) bill, which would renew BARDA funding.

“Our flu stockpile is full of expired vaccine components,” Baldwin said.

The vaccine components BARDA does have fail to match the strains now circulating, Baldwin said.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who helped lead the effort to create BARDA, and helped lead the effort to reauthorize support for the program in 2013, said he agrees with Baldwin that flu fighting efforts needs more support, but he said he wants to avoid imposing restrictions on how BARDA uses its funding.

You can look at this hearing from May, if you wish.

According to this, this bill got out of committee to the Senate, but nothing has happened on it since June. The related House bill passed in September, and was sent to the Senate. So that’s where that stands.

Second, on vaccines and pandemic risk:

The Spanish Flu Centennial: Pandemic Risk Is Still With Us

Although influenza is not feared nearly as much today as it was 100 years ago, due to more effective medical and non-pharmaceutical interventions and better health care, non-seasonal influenza still poses high pandemic risk.

Pandemic influenzas can be characterized by rapid and frequent mutation, high human-to-human transmissibility, and variable virulence. Although prior exposure, especially early in life, can partially mitigate severity, the virus’s high mutability has meant continued population vulnerability.

Indeed, the H1N1 virus, which caused Spanish Flu, has been a factor in several large-scale influenza outbreaks — most recently in 2009’s Novel A/H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic. And H3N2, the fast-mutating culprit behind this year’s seasonal flu epidemic, is causing the current flu season to quickly approach 2009’s in population impact. Indeed, by mid-February 2018 — more than midway through the current Northern Hemisphere flu season — cases have been reported throughout the U.S. and in Puerto Rico, and more than 60 pediatric deaths have been recorded as of this writing.

Efforts to create a universal flu vaccine (against pandemic and seasonal influenza), although theoretically promising, have thus far not been successful. Seasonal vaccines are effective, but their effectiveness can vary from season to season. Consider that in 2014-2015, the vaccine covered only 23% of that year’s circulating viruses. The vaccine for this year’s flu season [article was from February 2018], currently in full swing, is projected at approximately 25% effectiveness for H3N2, the dominant circulating U.S. strain.

Yeah, that sucked. By the way, the prior bad season was 2014-2015, with about 56,000 deaths. It also had an ineffective vaccine. Still, it helps to get the shot.

Also, wash your hands and cover your coughs and sneezes.


Maybe this should have gone into the prior flu post, this news round up from a while back shows how bad the pandemic got:

Just three days after the Helena Independent reported on the flu pandemic breaking out in Boston [September 20, 1918], Montana had its first victim, a 3-year-old boy on the Blackfeet Indian reservation. Two days later, a 15-year-old girl in a ranching town on the Canadian border and an 86-year-old farmer in Great Falls were felled.

Before the week was out, five more people in northeastern Montana died. One was a pregnant mother; another a 6-month-old infant. Even then a pattern emerged: For reasons not fully understood to this day, the influenza sweeping across North America in the autumn of 1918 was even more virulent among healthy adults in the prime of life. The victims that week included two women in their 20s, a 37-year-old railroad man, and a 40-year-old ranch hand.

“These eight mortalities began a tsunami of death across Montana,” wrote researchers Todd Harwell, Greg Holzman, and Steven Helgerson nearly a century later. As the bodies piled up in Montana, other anomalies became evident: This flu was also deadlier to Indians than whites, and more lethal for men than women.

But the true horror of this virus was how undiscriminating, overall, it was: The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one-third of the human beings on our planet were exposed to the virus, and that it killed one in 10 of those it infected — some 50 million men, women, and children of all races and creeds.

I want you to think on that: 1/3 of the population infected, 1/10 of those dead — so about 3 – 4 % of the world population, dead, in a one year period, on top of the usual deaths.

Current death rates for the entire world is on the order of 8 per 1,000 or 0.8%. Imagine 4 times the usual number of people dying in a year for us. That would be horrific. The U.S. crude death rate is actually about the same as the world rate (related to our age mix, not just mortality rate by age — I have shown age-adjusted death rates in the past, but this is a simple counting of how many people died in a year without reference to their ages).

Now, while season flu deaths of 80,000, compared to a more usual 30,000-40,000 is a huge increase for just that cause, keep in mind that this is out of about 2.7 million deaths in a year. So only about 3% of deaths being from flu. Contrast that to the top killers.

It is interesting the phenomenal progress that has been made on heart disease, and how flat the improvement for cancer has been. If you would like to see a longer term graph, showing the flu spike, here you go:

Check out that spike. Even with some relatively nasty flu seasons, we have never gotten near anything like the Spanish flu pandemic since 1918. And that pandemic has nothing on what the Black Death was like.

Perhaps our seasonal flue vaccines can’t ward off said pandemics, but they definitely help lower the spread of diseases that kills primarily old folks. It is not a nice way to die (not that there are loads of nice ways to die).


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