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domingo, 4 de febrero de 2018

More than 50 children have died so far in record-breaking flu season

Americans are battling a particularly brutal flu season that has already claimed the lives of 53 children and is set to break hospitalization records — and there are several more weeks to endure.

The 2014-2015 flu season currently holds the record for the most hospitalizations, at a whopping 710,000. According to officials, the 2017-2018 season is expected to exceed that.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned that people older than 65 and younger than five are at a particular risk of succumbing to the effects of the outbreak, which led to the deaths of 16 children just last week.

Brutal outbreak

The rising death toll is being driven by a deadly strain of H3N2 that has so far demonstrated a resilient resistance to vaccines offered by doctors and health clinics. Besides H3N2, strains known as H1N1 and “influenza B” are ravaging parts of the country and affecting thousands.

Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, described the challenges troubling health officials.

“All of the different types of influenza are causing these deaths,” he told The Washington Times. And with many flu seasons lasting 20 weeks or more, Jernigan said, “we may have many more to go.”

“We’re seeing deaths increase in children and in adults,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), added. “So it’s proving to be a very difficult season.”

Does the vaccine work?

Although a Canadian study recently found that vaccines designed to prevent the H3N3 virus are only effective 17 percent of the time, public health officials continue to advocate for vaccination as the best defense against the flu. Shots are recommended for anyone 6 months or older, and even if the vaccine fails to prevent the flu, the effects are said to reduce symptoms.

“We continue to recommend the flu vaccine, even though we know most flu vaccines have low effectiveness against H3N2 viruses,” Schuchat said. In addition to the flu shot, the CDC director recommends that adults older than 65 receive pneumococcal vaccinations to ward off secondary infections.

In addition to vaccines, antiviral medications can also help to control symptoms.

“You also can reduce your risk of getting the flu through every day measures,” Schuchat advised. “Please stay home if you are sick to help prevent spreading respiratory viruses to others.”

Americans traveling to high-traffic areas like Sunday’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, have also been advised to wash their hands often.

Leadership change

The CDC is struggling with more than just containing a deadly flu season. Former CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald recently resigned her leadership position at the public health center after she was exposed for maintaining several financial conflicts of interest.

“Despite recent leadership changes, CDC remains committed to our 24-7 mission to protect the health, safety and security of Americans,” Schuchat said. “And that mission will not falter.”

With several weeks to go before the flu season ends, and without an effective response to the multiple strains, Americans are set to experience an unprecedented number of deaths and illnesses this winter. 

The “CDC continues to make flu monitoring and control a priority,” Schuchat said. “Helping Americans weather this season is our focus, but we are also working with partners across government and the private sector to improve the vaccines that we have, and find ways and tools to help Americans reduce their risk of getting sick.”