Only a few shopping days left until Christmas and instead of lining up at crowded stores to purchase those last minute gifts we are lining up in our doctors offices to purchase what is left of the flu vaccine. Instead of rolling up our sleeves to bake some holiday cookies we are rolling up our sleeves to get the shot. The media has managed to convince most of us that the flu this year is going to kill us all if we are not vaccinated. We hear the dire warning that this is going to be the deadliest flu season yet. Every sniffle, cough, and sneeze from our children has us in a panic and rushing off to the ER.
Once again the media has used its might to distort the facts and spread its propaganda. In fact, the death rate for flu related deaths this season is actually less than the previous 4 years during the same time frame. According to the CDC’s mortality reporting system, a system based on the total number of deaths reported by the vital statistics offices of 122 U.S. cities, the percentages of deaths due to influenza or pneumonia this season has remained below epidemic levels so far. The same cannot be said for the 1999-2000 season whereby this time there were 9 weeks that exceeded epidemic levels. The CDC reports that we currently have had zero weeks that reach or exceed epidemic levels. When the media refers to this flu season as an epidemic it is factually incorrect. Below is the percentage of deaths from influenza and pneumonia for weeks 40 to 49 (our current week) for this and the past four years. Compare the numbers and you will see the deaths for this year are not extreme. This information is taken directly from the CDC statistical reports. This is public information and can be accessed at www.cdc.gov.
As you can see with a week-to-week comparison this year’s mortality rate is relatively average, low even, in most weeks. The only weeks that reported lower incidents of death than in this current season is weeks 49, 48, and 47 of the 2001 flu season. All other weeks for the previous four years had higher rates of influenza related deaths.
The CDC does report that the actual number of cases of flu is higher than usual. This is especially true of the number of patients seeking care for the flu. This is not surprising however when most of us who would typically treat the flu with bed rest and liquids are running to our doctors offices for treatment because the media has us thinking we may die if we don’t. Now, I also wonder if the higher than average levels of flu infection is related to the release of the new live virus Flumist vaccine. As with any live virus vaccine there is a risk of contracting symptoms of the disease being vaccinated against. What’s more, according to the Flumist package insert, the virus can be shed from the nasal passages for 3 weeks after vaccination which means anyone coming in contact with a vaccinated individual is at risk of contracting the virus. It is for this reason that Flumist is not recommended for people who may be in contact with others who are immune compromised. What is most troubling about this is that school-age children are being targeted for this vaccine. Children can get this vaccine and then go off to school, sitting right next to another child who may have asthma, diabetes, respiratory deficiency, or any other immune disorder that puts them at risk of contracting the flu from their recently vaccinated classmate and this is the population most at risk of serious complications from the flu. How many of us are standing in lines at crowded shopping centers next to an individual who has been recently vaccinated with the Flumist vaccine, unknowingly being assaulted with the virus when the individual sneezes on us? At least with the real flu the infected stay home, not exposing the rest of us to the virus. Is it any wonder the number of flu cases is higher than normal?
It is interesting to note that back in November MedImmune and Wyeth reported disappointing sales of the Flumist vaccine. They had manufactured 4 million doses and had only distributed 400,000. If the vaccine is not used during the current season then all those doses must be destroyed, they cannot be used for the next season. Coincidentally, it was shortly after the report regarding disappointing sales of the Flumist vaccine that the media uproar regarding the flu began. It worked too. Now that the injectable version of the flu vaccine has been “used up” the Flumist vaccine is the only alternative left and we are buying it like it was the hot new toy of the season. Of course, this may all indeed be coincidence, who knows?
Influenza can be dangerous and it does kill, but this year’s media hype is out of control and is factually incorrect. It is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded building for a reason. To spread panic based on untrue information is unethical. It is indeed important to protect yourself from the flu and following basic hygiene is a very effective way to avoid catching the flu. Frequent hand washing, eating healthy, drinking plenty of water and getting plenty of rest are simple but useful methods in preventing the flu.
For factual information regarding this flu season go to www.cdc.gov.