Health officials are hinting that this flu season could be worse than normal after the first pediatric flu-associated death has been reported earlier than normal.
Officials from the Riverside University Health System in California said in a news release earlier this month that a 4-year-old child who recently died tested positive for influenza.
Though the child had underlying health issues, Dr. Cameron Kaiser said we should never forget that the flu can kill.
“I always recommend people get their flu shots every year, but a death so early in the flu season suggests this year may be worse than usual," Kaiser said. "Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones who are grieving.”
And while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people receive vaccinations by the end of October, Kaiser said it is not too early to get a flu shot now, adding that many providers have this year’s shot in stock already.
The CDC says that even though the effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary depending on factors that include age and health of the recipient, types and subtypes of the virus and the degree of similarity between circulating viruses and those included in the vaccine, it still provides important protection from the flu.
In the six flu seasons between 2011 and 2016, the CDC estimates the influenza vaccine prevented each season, in the U.S.:
- Anywhere from 1.6 million to 6.7 million illnesses
- 790,000 to 3.1 million outpatient medical visits
- 39,000 to 87,000 hospitalizations
- 3,000 to 10,000 respiratory and circulatory deaths
Those numbers might seem mind boggling, but do you recall how severe the flu season of 2017-18 was? There were higher rates of outpatient visits and hospitalizations and the season lasted an unusually long amount of time and there was widespread activity, according to the CDC.
During that severe season, it is estimated the vaccine prevented:
- 7.1 million illnesses
- 3.7 million medical visits
- 109,000 hospitalizations
- 8,000 deaths
Those numbers are despite an overall vaccine effectiveness of 38%.
The CDC recommends the following recommendations for vaccinations:
- Routine annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all persons aged older than 6 months who do not have contraindications.
- A licensed vaccine appropriate for age and health status should be used. Consult package information for age indications.
- Emphasis should be placed on vaccination of high-risk groups and their contacts/caregivers. When vaccine supply is limited, vaccination efforts should focus on delivering vaccination to (no hierarchy implied by order listed):
- Children aged 6 through 59 months.
- Adults aged older than 50 years.
- Persons with chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular (excluding isolated hypertension), renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic or metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus).
- Persons who are immunocompromised due to any cause, including (but not limited to) medications or HIV infection.
- Women who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season.
- Children and adolescents (aged 6 months through 18 years) receiving aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications who might be at risk for Reye syndrome after influenza infection.
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
- American Indians/Alaska natives.
- Persons who are extremely obese (BMI more than 40 for adults)
- Caregivers and contacts of those at risk:
- Health care personnel, including all paid and unpaid persons working in health-care settings who have potential for exposure to patients and/or to infectious materials, whether or not directly involved in patient care;
- Household contacts and caregivers of children 5 years or younger, particularly contacts of children aged less than 6 months and adults aged 50 years or older;
- Household contacts and caregivers of persons with medical conditions associated with increased risk of severe complications from influenza.
We reached out to the CDC for more information on the California child's death. They responded: "(We) have not begun releasing our weekly FluVision reports with mortality surveillance data yet."
Have more questions regarding the 2019-20 flu season? The CDC has provided all the answers to the most frequently asked questions here.