The first several weeks of the 2015/2016 flu season saw nearly 10 deaths that resulted from pneumonia or flu-related issues, according to the HCPH records. This season has only seen seven so far, with none in the first four weeks of the new yea. But then that could change quickly.
The health department’s records, posted online for the community’s benefit, show startling contrasts. It’s no surprise that the influenza survellience has labeled this year’s flu as “widespread” since the beginning of 2017. Widespread is the highest ranking the illness can have, up from no activity, sporadic, local and regional.
The department had widespread defined as “outbreaks of flu or increases in cases and recent lab-confirmed flu in at least half the regions in Ohio with recent lab evidence of flu in the state.”
Last year’s season didn’t see any flu-related hospitalizations until mid February and there were only fewer than 10 positive flu tests before the end of January.
By comparison, from December to the end of January, this flu season already has resulted in 25 hospitalizations, spiking to a high of seven at one time in the year’s fourth week. There have been more than 150 positive flu tests.
The fourth week saw more than a 100-percent increase in flu-associated hospitalizations, week-over-week, from the previous seven days, showing the flu isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Instead, the symptoms seem to be driving people to buy more over-the-counter medication than last year.
Nearly twice as many people have been complaining of congestion and a cough than last year, and more than twice as many have been experiencing a fever with their flu-like symptoms. This may explain why the sales of cough and cold medicines is significantly higher than last year, 720 items in the third week of the year, compared to 612 in the 2015/16 season.
With all of the information stacked up in favor of the virus, what can people do to protect themselves from its more serious effects?
One solution might be a relatively new medication, peramivir (Rapivab), the first flu-inhibitor of its kind that that can be given via a single IV dose, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The FDA also approved two other inhibitors, oseltamivir (Tamiflu), which is taken by mouth, and zanamivir (Relenza), which is inhaled. Older forms of inhibitors are no longer in use, according to a 2014 FDA news release, because influenza strains had become resistant to them.
The FDA said “combined influenza symptoms (were) alleviated 21 hours sooner” with Rapivab.
When should antiviral drugs be taken for treatment?
“Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within two days of getting sick,” the CDC said in a press release shared by HCPH. “However, starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high-risk factor or is very sick from the flu (for example, hospitalized patients). Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking these drugs.”
Though these drugs can help with treating the flu, the CDC said they are no substitiute for the annual flu shot.
“Should I still get a flu vaccine? Yes,” it said in the press release.
“Antiviral drugs are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine. While flu vaccines can vary in how they work, flu vaccination is the first and best way to prevent influenza. Antiviral drugs are a second line of defense to treat the flu if you get sick.”