Influenza is here, it’s bad, and it’s killing people

Contrary to the opinions of people like Peter Doshi, PhD, and others that influenza is not that bad, influenza is pretty bad. Just ask the family of this woman in Texas how bad it is. Or ask the family of this girl. Influenza is being reported from all over the lower 48, Canada, and Mexico. Many public health agencies are now recommending the influenza vaccine as a countermeasure to the increase in cases. As an epidemiologist, I join other epidemiologists in saying that the vaccine is not a good countermeasure, and it shouldn’t be used as the lone countermeasure. It takes a while for it to confer immunity, so it may be too late now that the season is fully underway.

This is not to say that the vaccine is worthless, like Peter Doshi, PhD (not in epidemiology) thinks. He wrote:

“Historical influenza mortality data contain many relevant implications for influenza vaccination campaigns. The overall decline in influenza-attributed mortality over the 20th century cannot be the result of influenza vaccination, because vaccination did not become available until the 1940s and was not widely used until the late 1980s. This rapid decline, which commenced around the end of World War II, points to the possibility that social changes led to a change in the ecology of influenza viruses.”

If that argument seems familiar to you, it’s because it is a variation of the “vaccines did not save us” gambit. But I forgive Doshi’s insolence, he’s not an epidemiologist. He doesn’t understand that vaccines have the dual benefit of lowering the number of cases and the number of deaths. In the case of influenza, most of the people that die from it die from the complications of it like bacterial pneumonia. Once we developed antibiotics, deaths from pneumonia plummeted. So we don’t use mortality as a measure of severity in a vacuum. We use hospitalization, disability, days off from work, etc. To use death alone like Peter Doshi, PhD (in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society, not epidemiology) is misinformed, misinforming, and, in my humble opinion, intellectually dishonest.

But I’ll lay off Peter Doshi, PhD (not even in biostatistics) for now and go back to the flu.

The flu kills, yes, but the flu also maims. The flu keeps you from work and takes away millions billion of dollars in productivity each year. It keeps kids out of school and adults out of work to take care of them. It makes older folks sick from the flu brought home by children who mix with sick children at school, daycare, or on the playground. I cannot stress it enough. The flu is serious business.

Many local and state health department give out free influenza vaccines. Others are offered at low cost through different organizations. Your insurance company may offer it free or at low cost as well. Just remember that the influenza season is in full swing, so getting the vaccine now may not protect you for weeks to come. Wether you get the vaccine or not, stay home if you’re sick, and stay away from sick people. If you have preexisting medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, or are pregnant or on chemotherapy for cancer of auto-immune diseases, please be careful. Seek medical attention if you do get sick.

And wash your hands, for God’s sake!

8 thoughts on “Influenza is here, it’s bad, and it’s killing people

  1. Pingback: What you need to know about influenza right now | EpidemioLogical

  2. I live in Mexico and know of a influenza case that caused the death of a 21 year old boy, its strange but the authorities are not acknowledging the seriousness of this. There are no alerts and only vaccines are beeing promoted and applied for free

  3. Anecdote here, but the hospital where I volunteer at has had a recent uptick in patients coming in with the flu or complications from it. In every single case, none of them had been vaccinated against it.

    Luckily so far, there has been no fatalities, although a few cases seen very serious.

    • ‘Tis the season for idiots to spread infections around, rather than staying home when ill or keeping children at home when ill.
      It’s part of the culture we have of working when sick, screw anyone around oneself, spread the misery.

      If you missed it previously, my granddaughter was born on 23-December. She was hospitalized with RSV, due to respiratory distress and periods of apnea. After several days of D10, a day of high flow O2, a day of cannula O2, then a day of room air, she’s back home again.
      The origin of said infection being the eldest grandchild, contracted at a KinderCare facility.

      Argh! But, the stupid burns!
      When will this nation finally become civilized?!

  4. Yep, 12 kids in my clinic w/ influenza A (presumed H1N1)…not a single one vaccinated. One hospitalized for a few days. Sadly, all the news coverage has not caused any uptick in our flu immunization rates since most people who were going to vaccinate their children did so in the fall. I do not like this at all. I think b/c H1N1 didn’t seem so bad as predicted in 2009, people aren’t taking it seriously.

  5. Influenza triggered cytokine storms are definitely a big deal.
    Secondary infection aside, that is the true killer from influenza.

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