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This Flu Season Sets Dubious Records for Deaths, Number of Cases over 10 Year Period

NIH vaccine stock photo.jpg
National Institute of Health
Health officers are recommending a flu vaccine, though the peak of the season may have passed.

Pediatric deaths higher this year in a season that peaked early; flu is still widespread but declining

According to Clay Horton, public health director for the Green River District Health Department, early December brought the number of flu cases they don't normally see until the peak in January or February.

“As far as a couple of weeks ago, we were on pace to see probably the biggest flu year that we've had in at least 10 years,” Horton said.

And he doesn't know why.

But they had some warning because the Southern Hemisphere had a bad flu season ahead of the Northern Hemisphere’s flu season.

Horton said disease surveillance, where hospitals are required to report every confirmed case, is not as robust for the flu as it has been for the COVID 19 pandemic.

“We don't get every case reported,” he said. “So we typically just look at trends. There's a couple of trends that we look at.”

They look at lab cases, but mostly they look at diagnostic codes for “flu-like symptoms,” which is what seems to explode in early December. Horton says Kentucky has reported more than 29,000 cases of the flu so far. And that's just a small percentage of actual cases.

The CDC estimates there have been at least 20 million illnesses, 210,000 hospitalizations, and 13,000 deaths from the flu. There have also been 61 pediatric flu deaths.

Dr. JoAnn Wood is Deaconess Health System Senior VP and health officer.

“It looks like we're going to have a really high number of people with the flu as compared to past years,” Wood said. “So the number of people who are even diagnosed with flu are higher than normal. And the mortalities are higher with this particular virus as well.”

Of these cases, Influenza A type H3N2 accounted for 83 percent of cases, H1N1 was 17 percent. Numbers have begun to decline starting a few weeks ago after that initial influx of cases.

Wood said it is not too late to get the vaccine, which she said can prevent hospitalization and death. Wood said there's still a common misconception surrounding flu vaccines.

“Patients expected if they get that vaccination, they won't get the flu,” she said. “But the data suggests that what it actually does, is that (vaccine) prevents you from dying from the flu. And it should make your course of illness, so the number of days that you're sick and the severity of your illness.”

Wood said fewer patients are getting the vaccine. She conjectures that this could have contributed to this overall bad flu season. But again, no one knows exactly why the flu was so widespread.

“Because when you look at flu over history, they're just years when it's a lot more severe,” Wood said. “They just ebb and flow each year.”

Among the deaths are more pediatric cases as well.

“If you have children older than six months, you should get them vaccinated against flu this year as well,” Horton said. “It's not too late to get a flu shot even even if you've already had the flu this year. You know it's possible to get reinfected.”

This is because there are multiple strains circulating. Of course, use social distancing and masks if you're ill, if you can't isolate yourself.

Horton said there have been a fair amount of pediatric flu cases in the state and the Green River District. And tragically six pediatric flu deaths have been reported, which is a record according to the state.