I am sick this week. I was sick 7 days ago as well. It started with what I believe to be food poisoning, which presumably lowered my immune system, leaving it vulnerable to disease. I found out later the disease-carrier lived with me all along, in the form of my roommate.
Apparently she was sick while away for the holidays. Unbeknownst to me, her body returned bearing gifts… and also the plot to make us one in the same: snot-filled, cough-ridden, and chronically-tired New Englanders. At least for Christmas she bought me a juicer to kick the cold’s butt. But now I’m wondering, did she know she’d get me sick BEFORE or AFTER the purchase?
We’re not alone, however. In the first week of January, the flu is widespread across 47 states! Just check out the flu activity chart (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to see what I mean. Last time I saw so much blue, I was collecting Smurf Happy Meal toys.
This just in: Idaho is so ill, it couldn’t even provide the CDC with sufficient data for this chart.
So what made the flu sneak up on us this year? It just so happens, we slacked in getting vaccinated. According to Joseph Bresee, chief of CDC's epidemiology and prevention branch, “About 37% of Americans had gotten vaccinated against the flu as of mid-November.” They hope this number reaches 50% this season, since in most recent years at least half of Americans do get flu vaccinations by this time.
Not only that, but Americans took vaccines less seriously since cases haven’t been so severe in recent memory. “In an immediate sense; we were a little spoiled last year,” said Dr. William Schaffner, former president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. “Last year, we had fewer influenza cases than had ever been recorded before.” Now, cities like Boston have declared a public health emergency. Last year, Boston reported up to 70 flu cases. This year, they’re up to 700.
Here’s another chart, comparing flu activity in 2012 to the left and 2013 to the right.
Schaffner continues, “The dominant virus from 2009 through last year was the H1N1 flu strain, nicknamed ‘Swine Flu’. Although many people came down with it in 2009, most of them had been vaccinated against it by last year, resulting in fewer infected people.”
In 2013, flu season started early start with a different dominant strain: H3N2. If you believe it, this year’s strain is mild compared to the Swine Flu in 2009. Actually, it may not be that hard to believe since we haven’t nicknamed this strain yet. “Honey Boo Boo Flu” anyone?
The flu vaccination process is an interesting one: each year, virologists at the World Health Organization make predictions on what strain will become dominant in the Western Hemisphere, using last year’s flu virus circulation in the Southern Hemisphere as a map.
Their educated guess this year included a mix of H3N2, H1N1 and Influenza B. “The H3N2 and H1N1 in the vaccine look a lot like the flu currently in circulation and the Influenza B strain is about a 70% match,” said Michael Jhung, an officer in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's influenza division.
What they couldn’t predict was an influenza circulating that causes 10-16% infection which is not included in this year’s vaccination. No one likes bad news, but everyone hates surprises.
It’s not too late to become vaccinated! Contact your local pharmacy to make sure vaccinations are available. If you’re worried about getting sick and would like to hear health insurance options, contact us at 818.251.5000.