Palm Beach Post: Flu season starting; swine strain dominates

At the twelve MD Now urgent care clinics across Palm Beach County, one or two people a day now enter with fevers and aches, and leave with the same diagnosis: flu.

“It’s here,” Dr. Peter Lamelas, founder of the MD Now, said Monday. “It’s up from last week.”

Check out the entire Palm Beach Post article here  (http://m.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/flu-season-starting-swine-strain-dominates/ncTMc/)

The Florida Department of Health reports that 24 counties now describe increasing flu activity, up from 19 counties the week before. Nearly half of all tests for influenza-like illness are coming up positive for the flu, the state says. The yardstick used by the CDC to measure national flu activity ranges from none to widespread flu activity. Florida’s flu status has been upgraded to “regional,” from “local,” just one step away from widespread.

With holiday travel now peaking, health authorities say vaccination against the viral illness is important, especially if visits with older or immune-compromised loved ones are planned. The flu season peaks in January and February, when Lamelas said his chain will often see 10 people a day testing positive for flu.

This year’s dominant strain is the so-called swine flu, the novel H1N1 influenza variant that launched a global pandemic in 2009. It’s a strain that almost no one had immunity to before 2009, one believed to be related to the 1918 pandemic flu that killed millions globally. But it’s covered by all versions of this year’s flu vaccine.

This strain has proved disproportionately dangerous for people with diabetes, obese people with a body mass over 30, younger people and especially pregnant women.

During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 56 deaths among 280 pregnant women who had been admitted to intensive care units.

On Thursday, the state put out this cautionary warning:

“In recent weeks the Florida Department of Health has received reports of severe influenza illness, including hospitalizations requiring ICU care, among pregnant women. None of these women had received the 2013-2014 influenza vaccine.”

In July 2009, Latoya Riley, a pregnant Delray Beach day-care worker, was the first to die from the H1N1 flu locally.

It happened so suddenly, her aunt said. Riley felt feverish after work. She went to the Boca Raton hospital emergency room and was seen then sent home to rest. She felt even sicker, dialed 911 and was taken to Bethesda hospital, where she soon died. Doctors managed to deliver her baby prematurely.

Annual vaccination against the flu is needed for two reasons: In some people, some types of vaccines confer protection for a matter of just months. Also, the influenza virus is constantly changing. It travels among different animal species, including birds, pigs and humans, so that a flu vaccine that works one year may not cover the subtypes that emerge in future years. Fortunately, the H1N1 strain circulating in Florida is a good match for this year’s flu shot.

Data shows the live, attenuated FluMist nasal vaccine is the most effective for younger people. While the flu shot isn’t 100 percent, data suggest it lowers the risk of death. Florida Vital Statistics data show that counties where a greater percentage of residents got flu shots had a lower rate of flu and pneumonia related deaths. Both Palm Beach and Martin counties have had above-average vaccination rates for flu, and death rates below the state average.

Flu shots are still widely available, everywhere from drug stores to walk-in clinics. It takes about two weeks to be protected after being immunized.

“Were still giving them out,” Lamelas said. “Nowadays you can get a flu shot on every corner.”