By GAIL LOWE
WAKEFIELD — Board of Health Director Ruth Clay reported good news recently. The number of cases of flu is “about average” for this time of year but none of the cases have resulted in hospitalization or death.
In many locations across the nation, however, the story is far different.
Flu had reached epidemic levels by last Friday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 8.5 percent of all deaths nationwide reported for the week ending Jan. 10 were due to pneumonia and flu and 19 children reportedly lost their lives due to the illness. One young Wisconsin woman, age 26, who came down with the illness contracted flu-related sepsis (previously known as blood poisoning) and died as a result.
To make matters worse, the flu vaccine dispensed this season may not adequately protect people who have been inoculated from the illness’s most common viral strains, a spokesman for the CDC said.
A variety of flu strains can crop up during any given season, so vaccines are not inherently “one shot fits all” in terms of protection.
All vaccines given during the 2014-2015 season protect against the following strains:
• A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)
• A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2)
Though Wakefieldians have largely escaped flu, the common cold is rampant, said Clay.
Staying away from people who are sick and frequent hand washing reduce the spread of germs and staying home from work or school helps to prevent spreading colds and flu.
It is also important to remember that anti-viral drugs can be used to treat flu illness and prevent serious flu complications, according to the CDC.
Anti-viral drugs become even more important when circulating flu viruses are different from the vaccine viruses, which can mean that the vaccine does not work as well in protecting against infection with those viruses.
People at high risk, such as children under age 2 and adults older than 65, pregnant women and people who have medical conditions or are very sick should receive anti-viral drugs.
Other people can be treated with anti-virals, at their doctor’s discretion. Being treated often means the difference between having a milder illness instead of very serious illness that could result in hospitalization or even death.
Treatment with anti-viral drugs works best when begun within 48 hours of becoming sick but can still be beneficial when given later in the course of illness. These medications can also lessen serious flu complications that can result in death. They are effective across all age and risk groups.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2014-2015.htm.