Flu Remains Deadly Despite Declines


The United States has likely seen its flu season peak, although health officials around the country are issuing reminders that new illnesses and flu-related deaths may continue for several weeks.

For the second week in a row, the number of states reporting widespread flu activity has dropped, showing continued signs that the 2016-2017 flu season is waning despite continued reports of new illnesses and deaths around the United States.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) weekly FluView report notes that 39 states are now experiencing widespread flu, down from the previous week’s total of 43 states. According to the CDC, while flu activity is still elevated for the twelfth week in a row, the US has likely seen its peak and should continue to see less influenza-like illness over the coming weeks. For a flu season marked by severe illness due to the predominant spread of the influenza A H3N2 virus, signs of decline are welcome, though health officials warn the public to still expect new cases along with more deaths related to the virus.

The North Carolina Division of Public Health recently announced 17 new flu-related deaths in the state, bringing this season’s total to 83 deaths in the state. During the 2015-2016 flu season, North Carolina saw a total of 59 influenza-associated deaths, most of which occurred between the months of March and May in adults ages 50 and older. Health providers report to the North Carolina Division of Public Health the number of influenza-associated deaths, which are defined as any adult or pediatric death resulting from a laboratory-confirmed case of influenza illness with no period of complete recovery between the illness and death. With North Carolina experiencing a later than normal peak in flu season, health officials remind local residents to be on the lookout for flu-related symptoms such as high fever, sore throat, or runny nose, noting that it’s not too late to get a flu shot.

In Wisconsin, health officials have confirmed that a 79-year-old man and his 38-year-old daughter died on the same day, both due to flu-related complications. While the father had received a seasonal flu shot, his daughter had not. According to the recent flu surveillance report from Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services, the percentage of state residents receiving the flu vaccine this season has fallen since last season. Fewer than 40% of the overall state population received the shot so far this season, though higher rates of vaccination exist among young children and adults ages 50 and older.

In a new look at what may make people more likely to get a flu shot, a new study published in the journal Behavioral Science and Policy suggests that doctors may play an important role. According to the study, when doctors make the appointment for their patient to get a flu shot, the patient is three times more likely to get the vaccination than if the patient were left to make his or her own appointment. The investigation, conducted by Rutgers University researchers, found that of the 886 patients included in the study, 16% came in for vaccination appointments made for them, though only 5% who were invited to make their own appointments did so, while 2% who received no instructions came in to get vaccinated.

“Vaccination is the single most important thing to do to prevent communicative diseases, and not nearly enough people get vaccinated,” said study author Gretchen Chapman, in a recent press release. “Prescheduled appointments are a simple intervention that clinics can use to increase vaccination rates.”

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