Deadly influenza is hitting families hard this flu season, which has already put the lives of at least 52 Americans in the hospital and killed 32.
The government convened a multi-institutional advisory committee last week to put a human face on the flu’s threat. The group assessed treatment strategies, data, underlying causes and most importantly prevention.
Influenza kills 200 to 500 Americans a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It currently ranks as one of the leading causes of death across the U.S.
High risk people are advised to get a flu shot if they are 50 or older, high risk kids, pregnant women, nursing home residents and people with long-term conditions, including asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes or kidney disease. Those with weakened immune systems, or in the military, also may be urged to receive vaccination.
Influenza only makes headlines when it’s a very severe and deadly event, like the flu pandemic of 1918 when it killed millions. Still, annual flu season affects tens of millions of Americans and according to the CDC, flu-associated deaths could reach 36,000 by the end of the season.
Health officials have been warning about the magnitude of the flu’s potential for harm for years. It’s been shown that one in five high-risk people experience some flu-related complications, including pneumonia, which is the leading cause of death in hospitalized flu patients. And right now, most people in the U.S. do not have access to seasonal flu vaccine.
Vaccines kill live flu viruses to protect the population, but they are only 99 percent effective. In the following weeks, Americans could see powerful drugs like Tamiflu available more widely on pharmacies, doctors’ offices and hospital pharmacies.
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