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This flu season is the most severe since 2009

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have declared this year’s flu outbreak to be the worst on record since the 2009 flu pandemic. Last week, one in 15 doctors' appointments were made for flu symptoms, and 37 children have died from the flu this season. Stephen Ferrara, an associate professor at the Columbia University School of Nursing, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared this year’s flu outbreak to be the worst on record since swine flu in 2009. And it only seems to be getting worse. Last week alone one in 15 doctors appointments in the United States was for the flu this week. Seven children died of the flu bringing the total for the season to thirty seven children. The CDC predicts there are still several weeks to go in the flu season. For some perspective I’m joined by Stephen Ferrara assistant professor of nursing at Columbia University Medical Center here in New York. What’s different about this year’s flu.

  • STEPHEN FERRARA:

    What we’re seeing this year is a lot of the strain of flu is H3N2 and that is a strain of influenza and this strain we know it tends to be more severe.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Earlier this year we heard that there was a low level of efficacy based on something that was happening in Australia. Clear that up for us.

  • STEPHEN FERRARA:

    Yeah. So report came out of Australia that the effectiveness of the vaccine was about 10 percent. Now we don’t have final numbers we don’t even have preliminary numbers here in the United States yet. What we believe are best guesstimate is about 30 percent. Somewhere about 30 percent effectiveness which by all means is still not perfect but better than what is being reported down in Australia.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Are there benefits even if you get the vaccine. And then you get the flu after it?

  • STEPHEN FERRARA:

    Yes. What studies have shown is that those who do get the virus after getting vaccinated tend to not have a severe illness.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Are we working or are we any closer to a universal vaccine. So you know there’s not this guessing game time and again?

  • STEPHEN FERRARA:

    And again we’re working on it but we are years away from that being effective. We still grow the influenza virus predominantly in an egg protein what’s advantageous about that is that we’re able to produce a lot of vaccine. In fact this year 151 million doses have shipped.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    One of the things that we don’t recognize very often is that the number of people who actually die of influenza every year. I mean just a few years ago it was pretty bad, Fifty six thousand people died in that year.

  • STEPHEN FERRARA:

    Yeah.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Those are numbers that we talk about in terms of the opioid epidemic, car crashes.

  • STEPHEN FERRARA:

    That’s right. The flu is should be taken seriously. The best way to protect ourselves is through vaccination and really it’s not too late to get the influenza vaccine right now.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And that year there was also around 710,000 hospitalization. So it progresses pretty quickly if you feel like you are getting these symptoms what’s the best thing you can do. Are there medications that you can take once you’re in the middle of it?

  • STEPHEN FERRARA:

    There are antiviral medications that are available today that help to reduce the severity of the flu and the duration of it. Now this isn’t necessarily recommended for everyone but it’s recommended for those who would most likely develop severe complications from the flu. So those over 65 the young those who have diabetes or heart heart disease should definitely get those antiviral medications. And what’s most important is that the earlier the better. So really within those first 48 hours of symptoms is the ideal time to take those medications.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right Steven from Columbia University thanks so much.

  • STEPHEN FERRARA:

    Thank you.

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