Thursday September 19, 2019

Two-Wave U.S. Flu Season is Now the Longest in Ten Years

Still, this flu season is not nearly as bad as last winter's 19-week season, the deadliest in at least four decades. An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last season.

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Emergency room nurse Christine Bauer treats Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, for the flu in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., Jan.18, 2018. VOA

Three months ago, this flu season was shaping up to be short and mild in the U.S. But a surprising second viral wave has made it the longest in 10 years.

This flu season has been officially going for 21 weeks, according to reports collected through last week and released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That makes it among the longest seen since the government started tracking flu season duration more than 20 years ago.

Some experts likened the unusual double waves to having two different flu seasons compressed, back-to-back, into one.

“I don’t remember a season like this,” said Dr. Arnold Monto, a University of Michigan researcher who had been studying respiratory illnesses for more than 50 years.

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Still, this flu season is not nearly as bad as last winter’s 19-week season, the deadliest in at least four decades. An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last season. VOA

The previous longest recent flu season was 20 weeks, which occurred in 2014-2015.

Flu can cause a miserable, relatively mild illness in many people and a more severe illness in others. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk from flu and its complications. Flu vaccinations are recommended annually for all but the very young.

The current season began the week of Thanksgiving, a typical start time. At the beginning, most illnesses were caused by a flu strain that tends not to cause as many hospitalizations and which is more easily controlled by vaccines.

But in mid-February, a nastier strain started causing more illnesses and driving up hospitalizations.

Not helping matters: The harsher bug is not well matched to the vaccine, said the CDC’s Lynnette Brammer, who oversees flu tracking.

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Some experts likened the unusual double waves to having two different flu seasons compressed, back-to-back, into one. Pixabay

Still, this flu season is not nearly as bad as last winter’s 19-week season, the deadliest in at least four decades. An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last season.

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The CDC is estimating that flu-related deaths this season in the range of 35,000 to 55,000.

More good news: Brammer said that although the virus is notoriously unpredictable, signs suggest this flu season should be over soon.

“It’s on the verge” of being over, she said. “If nothing changes.” (VOA)

Next Story

Gavi Appealing for $7.4 Billion to Immunize 300 Million Children in 2021-25

Gavi’s latest fundraising drive is its most ambitious to date

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FILE - A child is vaccinated against Ebola in Beni, Democratic Republic of the Congo, July 13, 2019. VOA

Gavi, the global vaccine alliance that targets developing countries, said Friday that it was appealing for $7.4 billion to immunize 300 million children in 2021-25.

Gavi’s latest fundraising drive is its most ambitious to date. Officials said they expected huge returns from what would be the agency’s most comprehensive and cost-effective preventive health package ever.

Gavi said the vaccines would protect against 18 diseases, saving up to 8 million lives. Spokeswoman Frederique Tissandier said sustainable investment was needed for the project because there still are 1.5 million people dying every year from vaccine-preventable diseases.

“The situation is increasingly fragile because of climate change, because of wars, because of the rise of the population in the urban slums,” she said. “So you have more and more epidemics that are spreading around.”

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Gavi, the global vaccine alliance that targets developing countries, said Friday that it was appealing for $7.4 billion to immunize 300 million children in 2021-25. Pixabay

Tissandier said Gavi planned to introduce new vaccines to prevent deadly diseases. For instance, she said, Gavi is ready to invest up to $150 million in a new Ebola vaccine stockpile once it is prequalified by the World Health Organization.

She told VOA that Gavi also would help the Democratic Republic of the Congo obtain the lifesaving vaccines it needs to immunize children against other killer diseases.

“We are going to fund, for instance, starting in September, measles campaigns in DRC to cover — I think the number is close to 18 million kids — to strengthen routine immunization, because we really focus on routine immunization,” Tissandier said. “We fund the stockpile against cholera, yellow fever or meningitis to respond to outbreaks.”

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She said support for the global polio eradication program remained a priority. Tissandier said Gavi would invest up to $800 million to accelerate the rollout of inactivated poliovirus vaccine. This would protect against a re-emergence of the disease in areas such as Africa, which is on the cusp of becoming polio-free, and other regions that already have achieved that status. (VOA)