Experts predict intense year for the flu
When Ebola was diagnosed in Dallas, it set off a tidal wave of fear that left health officials scrambling to stave off a communitywide crisis.
It ended with three confirmed cases, including one death.
A less exotic, but no less serious, health risk is now upon us. The flu season has barely started, and already the virus has killed three people in North Texas and made hundreds sick.
"Patients with Type A flu already are showing up in our clinics," said Dr. Jan Jowitt, RN, DHA, Chief Nursing Officer for UNT Health Science Center. "I suspect it’s going to be pretty intense this year."
On average, 36,000 people die of the flu each year in the United States, where between 5 percent and 20 percent of the population gets the virus. This year, the death toll could climb, in part because the flu vaccine does not provide the desired protection.
"The vaccine is predicted to be 30 to 50 percent effective," Dr. Jowitt said. "But 30 to 50 percent is better than zero."
In any given year, the flu vaccine is 60 percent to 80 percent effective. But this year, the strain mutated after the vaccination had been developed. This caused a mismatch of virus and vaccination.
A mutated strain of Type A flu has caused the most illness so far. This strain has been associated with some of the worst flu seasons.
Complications such as pneumonia can occur and can lead to hospitalization or even death, especially among children and the elderly.
UNT Health Science Center officials are ready. Elderly patients participating in the Mighty Care program are being encouraged to get the vaccine. Clinics that serve adults and children also are providing the shot to patients.
Anyone with symptoms – including fever, fatigue and body aches – should see their doctor. Antivirals such as Tamiflu can lessen the severity of symptoms and shorten suffering, but they must be given within two days of symptoms.
"The longer the flu goes on, the worse it can get," Dr. Jowitt said. "This is nothing to mess with."
There are ways to fight the flu or at least reduce your symptoms if you do get sick. Dr. Jowitt and Dr. Sarah Matches, pediatrician, offer these tips: