The Facebook Flu

I don’t typically run to my friend’s status updates on Facebook for the latest on vaccine trends, but I have noticed something in the past few weeks that I find disturbing. I keep reading update after Facebook Fluupdate stating “I have the flu,” which is usually followed up by a post that reads “Now my kids have the flu!” The flu is here and it is most definitely leaving its mark! To bring it a little closer to home, as we entered the month of December (2012), Texas was one of five states reporting high levels of flu activity. By the end of the month, it was estimated that 12 percent of the state’s doctor visits were for flu-like symptoms. Our very own Harris County hospitals beat out the state average with an estimated 18 percent. That number is well beyond what we saw during last year’s flu season.

So why does it seem as though more people have the flu this year than last year? There are actually a few reasons. First, flu season started earlier than normal, beginning the first week of December instead of the typical January or sometimes even February start times. It only makes sense, if flu season starts early, there are going to be a larger number of people who contract the illness. Another reason? There are new strains of the flu circulating this year that were not present last year. This is why it’s so crucial to be vaccinated EVERY year. This year, Influenza A (H3N2) has been the most commonly diagnosed strain and unfortunately, flu seasons dominated by this particular strain are more severe and result in a higher number of hospitalizations and deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This flu season alone the CDC has reported 22,048 cases of the flu (from September 30, 2012 through December 31, 2012) while only 849 cases were reported in that same time frame in 2011. That is 26 times more cases than just one year ago! Just today the CDC released its updated weekly influenza surveillance report from the first week of January and tragically, 20 children have now lost their lives because of the flu. And yes, I know that there is still a possibility of infection of an influenza virus despite being vaccinated, but don’t forget, the severity of the illness is typically milder in those who have been vaccinated than in those who have not.

But please remember it is not too late to get vaccinated! Don’t waste another day tempting fate. Go out and get your flu shot and talk to your family and friends as well. As this year’s flu season continues, I expect to see more status updates about the flu. I’m just hoping those updates are saying “I just got my flu shot” instead of “I’m stuck at home with the flu!”

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