Influenza Season Is Definitely Here as the First Deaths Are Being Reported

In the United States, influenza season usually runs between October and May. The peak of influenza activity varies, however. Some seasons, the peak of influenza activity happens in the coldest months of January and February. Other times, the season surprises us epidemiologists, and we get a peak of activity in October and then nothing the rest of the season. There have even been some seasons where multiple peaks are observed because different strains of influenza surge at different times.

On Monday, officials in Los Angeles, California, announced the first pediatric death associated with influenza in their jurisdiction this season:

“A “middle-aged person with underlying health conditions” died in connection with the virus, the county Department of Public Health said.

In announcing the death, the agency urged immunization for everyone 6 months and older.

“This is a sad reminder that the flu can be a serious illness, especially for the elderly, young children and people with weakened immune systems,” said Dr. Muntu Davis, health officer for the county. “I would like to remind everyone that even if you’re healthy, you can still get seriously sick from the flu and spread the illness to others.”

Free or low-cost flu shots are available at county libraries, public health centers and other clinics. Residents can call 211 for more information.

Officials also reminded people to wash their hands frequently, cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and stay at home if they’re sick.”

On Tuesday, Indiana officials announced their first death as well:

“The Indiana State Department of Health has reported the state’s first flu-related death of the 2019-20 flu season. The department said it happened in Marion County.

The CDC recommends people 6 months and up get an influenza vaccine each year. State Heath Commissioner Kris Box said because infants younger than 6 months can’t be vaccinated, it’s important that anyone in a household where a young baby lives or visits get a flu shot to protect the child. Healthcare workers also are urged to get a flu vaccine to reduce their risk of transmitting illness to their patients.

“This is a tragic reminder that we should never underestimate how serious the flu can be,” said Box. “Vaccination is the best defense against influenza, so please make sure you and your loved ones receive a flu shot.””

On Thursday, North Carolina officials announced the first death there:

“The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced the first death Thursday in a news release. The person died during the first week of October. The victim was described as “an adult in the central part of the state.”

The death comes as medical professionals are reporting a mostly mild flu season so far.

“We are very saddened by this death and send condolences to the loved ones of this person,” said State Epidemiologist Zack Moore, M.D., MPH.

SEE ALSO: Is this the start of an early flu season? Some doctors say ‘yes’

The person’s identity won’t be released to protect the family’s privacy.

“There seems to be a lull over the last week or two, but we just don’t know,” said REX physician Dr. Damian McHugh. “These cases tend to come in clusters.”

UNC-REX is reporting there have been less than 20 influenza cases. During October, the system says there have only had six positive flu cases throughout all seven urgent cares across Wake County.

That could be credited to more people getting the flu shot and taking advantage of the free offerings.

Even with low numbers, doctors are warning more cases could be coming soon.

Doctors are encouraging folks to get their flu shot by the end of the month to get the most out of it.”

While the influenza vaccine is nowhere near 100% effective, and we need a “game changer” when it comes to updating the vaccine technology we use, getting the influenza vaccine is still better than not getting it in terms of protection against the influenza virus. Other recommendations to prevent the flu is to wash your hands often so you don’t infect yourself if you come into contact with the virus from contaminated surfaces like doorknobs and handrails. If you’re caring for someone who cannot be vaccinated, it is especially important that you get vaccinated so you can be a sort of barrier between them and the virus, should you or someone happen to bring influenza home. Finally, if you’re sick, stay home. You never know if you might come into contact with someone who could have severe complications from the flu if you pass it on to them.

To keep an eye on influenza activity in the United States, visit the Influenza Surveillance Summary from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/

Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renenajera Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

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