100 years after the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed at least 50 million people worldwide, the 2018-2019 flu season is off to a rough start. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that between October 1, 2018 and January 5, 2019, 6 to 7 million Americans had already been infected and sickened by one of the four circulating strains of influenza virus, resulting in as many as 84,000 hospital admissions. Thirty states including Pennsylvania are now reporting widespread flu activity. As expected, influenza hits the youngest and oldest the hardest, with adults over 65 having the highest hospitalization rates, followed by children under 5. So far this flu season, the CDC reports 16 influenza-associated deaths in children. In the United States, influenza activity is expected to peak next month.
Last year’s flu season was particularly brutal: 80,000 deaths including 180 children, most of whom were unvaccinated — the highest flu death toll in children ever reported by the CDC with the exception of the 2009-2010 pandemic which took 358 pediatric lives. Still, as we discovered last year, it was nothing like the pandemic a century ago:
It is estimated that a third of the global population became infected with influenza A (H1N1) in 1918-19, and about 10-20% of those who were infected died. That means 3-6% of the entire world’s population died from flu during the pandemic!
No corner of the world was spared from the ravages of this extraordinary disease outbreak which killed tens of millions in a few short months — in India (17 million deaths), Indonesia (1.2 million), Japan (390,000), and Iran (perhaps more than 2 million), Canada (50,000), Britain (250,000), France (400,ooo) — and sickened hundreds of millions more. In the United States, 28% of the population was infected and 500,000-675,000 Americans died.
A dozen pointers to weather the “flu storm” this and every year begins very simply with this:
1. Get a flu vaccine! It is not too late to receive this proven health- and life-saver. Even though we’d all like to see more effective vaccines against influenza (particularly against H3N2), the fact is that even getting a sub-par flu vaccine will likely prevent you from experiencing the most severe impacts of influenza and its complications if you do come down with the flu.
You can read more advice on handling influenza outbreaks in your home here on The PediaBlog.