This year’s flu season is shifting into a fever pitch, as the disease spreads through the nation.
It is the H1N1 strain, which is the same one as the infamous Spanish Flu that struck a century ago. However, today’s version isn’t nearly as potent.
“Influenza viruses are constantly changing,” noted Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC says H1N1 cropped up again in 2009 when there was a breakout of swine flu. The virus was also rampant during the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons.
But the modern-day strain isn’t the same as the one from 100 years ago or even 10 because flu viruses evolve through what’s known as antigenic drifts and antigenic shifts.
When the virus “drifts,” the antibodies a person creates against older viruses no longer recognize the “new” virus — putting the person at risk of getting sick again, the CDC says.
Furthermore, reports indicate that this year’s vaccine is more effective than those offered last season.
Doctors are saying one piece of good news, despite the rocketing infection rates, is that this year’s flu shot is more effective than last year’s.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, last year’s vaccine effectiveness was 36 percent overall, making the 2017-18 season one of the most severe on record.
During the last full week of January, the CDC reported that one of every 14 visits to doctors and clinics nationwide that week was for symptoms of the flu.
That made it the highest level since the deadly swine flu pandemic in 2009.
However, this version of H1N1 has the potential to be deadly. It is suspected of being a factor in the recent death of young, vibrant conservative pundit Bre Payton in San Diego.
One of the questions being asked in this case is how the flu could claim the life of a healthy, young adult so quickly. One possible answer is that the robust immune system is more susceptible to triggering a cytokine storm.
For reasons that are not completely understood, too many immune cells can be sent to the infection site. This happens when a particular type of molecule in the body, known as cytokines, activate the immune cells at the infection site and cause more immune cells to flood the site of infection. This propagates what is referred to as a cytokine storm, where far too many immune cells are caught in an endless loop of calling more and more immune cells to fight the infection. The reaction ends up inflaming the tissue surrounding the infection.
When the infection is in the lungs, this severe inflammation can cause permanent damage. A prolonged cytokine storm will eventually shut down breathing completely.
Reports from elsewhere in California show that the flu season is off to a deadly start.
Since September 30, 36 people have died in California from the flu. Last year by this time, there were just seven deaths.
“The fact that these deaths are rising so early in the season, it’s concerning, and it’s only going to get worse before we get better,” said Dr. Michelle Quiogue.
While the numbers are alarming and suggest we are on the fast track to surpassing last years death toll, health officials say the flu is unpredictable. They recommend you stay prepared.
Perhaps the best information to have in this season is when to seek medical attention after being stricken with the flu. Professional medical care should be sought promptly if any of the following occur:
- Coughing up blood
- Croup, which causes a loud barking cough
- Trouble breathing, shortness of breath, or rapid breathing
- Pain or pressure in the chest
- Bluish-colored lips or nails
- High fever [103 F or higher in adults]
- Convulsions from fever (this usually affects children)
- Fever or cough that becomes severe or won’t go away
In light of the 100 year anniversary, I wanted to share a documentary on the Spanish Flu in America. Though not as potent, today’s H1N1 still has the potential to be lethal. Please take care!DONATE
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