Had the flu yet? Just wait

Marney Simon
Staff writer

The flu season is only several weeks old, but already it’s likely to be one of the worst in recent history.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported last week that hospitalizations for influenza this season are the highest seen, even higher than the 2014-15 previous high season. Flu activity continues to increase across the U.S., resulting in crowded hospitals and spot shortages of antiviral medications and rapid influenza tests.

At highest risk for the flu, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and children.

In the Reed-Custer School District, there is no plan in place that would shut buildings down in the event of a major outbreak. Reported cases of the flu or absent students in the district have not been higher than any other year. But, district officials said they are keeping a close eye on the nationwide outbreak.

“We don’t really have a specific plan,” Superintendent Mark Mitchell said. “The school nurse would come to me and let me know if there is an outbreak, and we’d make a plan from there.”

On Friday, Feb. 2, the CDC gave an update of this year’s flu season.

“Right now, one of the biggest health threats we are facing is influenza,” said Anne Schuchat, M.D., RADM, USPHS, Acting Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Flu is incredibly complex and difficult to predict and this season is a somber reminder of why flu is one of the world’s greatest public health challenges.”

Over the past few weeks, the CDC has seen increased influenza-like illness activity, more hospitalizations, and more flu associated deaths in children and adults.

Nationwide, the CDC reports an additional 16 flu-related pediatric deaths as of the end of last week, bringing the total number of children killed this year by the flu to 53.

“I also know there are ongoing concerns about whether the flu vaccine that many people received will be effective or whether you’ll be able to fill a prescription for antiviral medicine,” Schuchat said. “We continue to recommend the flu vaccine even though we know most flu vaccines have low effectiveness against H3N2 viruses, effectiveness against other flu viruses is better, and there is more than one flu virus circulating this season. The vaccine may also reduce the severity of symptoms if you catch the flu in spite of being vaccinated, and it is not too late to get the vaccine.”

The CDC recommends frequent hand washing and covering one’s mouth during a cough or sneeze to help prevent the spread of the flu.

Although the H3N2 virus is the dominant influenza strain this year, other viruses, including H1N1 and influenza B are causing illness as well.

As for how long the misery will continue, that is up in the air.

“The flu is incredibly difficult to predict and as we said, that flu seasons can range from 11 to 20 weeks,” Schuchat said. “The peak is at different points in different years and so this we, of course, do not know if we have hit the peak yet.

Many of the measurements are still going up. but we’re at week ten and some seasons go to 20 weeks, I would say the timing is not particularly unusual. What is unusual is the hospitalizations are greater than we’ve been seeing in the past several years.

In the Chicagoland area, three districts have been affected by overwhelming reports of the flu. The Komarek School District in North Riverside, the British International School in Chicago, and the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora all had to shutter their buildings to disinfect in January.