1/08/03 - Deadly Flu Season

Despite vaccines against it, the flu claims more lives every year than AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control reports the number of flu-related deaths is up considerably. On average 36,000 people die from the flu every year, that's up 16,000 from previous estimates.
Even though it's been a mild flu season in the Heartland, other areas of the country are getting hit. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association there are two reasons, an aging population and stronger flu bugs.
Vicky McDowell with the Cape County Health Department says, "The real flu will end up getting here, we can only hope it's not as bad as the rest of the country." The peak time to get a flu shot is over. Now, we're right in the middle of flu season.
Even though there have been no serious cases in the Heartland, a new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association says people are dying from influenza at a much higher rate than was previously thought .
"Due to medical advancements, people are living longer and there's a larger elderly population," McDowell says. "Flu can be devastating to the elderly and the very young." She adds that flu deaths are also up because of the type of flu strain, influenza A. "There are a couple of different strains of influenza and that seems to be most virulent, that's another factor in the deaths, and it's become more virulent lately and makes the flu much worse," McDowell says.
The Cape County Health Department used to have the flu vaccine, but it ran out of the vaccine early after giving 4000 shots. McDowell says if you want a shot you need to find a place where you can get one soon, because it's almost too late. The season often peaks in February and the shots take two weeks to take effect. Even though the flu hasn't hit here yet, doesn't mean it won't be soon. "Last year it was very late also, there's no understanding for it," McDowell says. "It's occasionally later than expected and I expect in the next month or so we'll see some flu."
Seniors are such a critical group, not just because their population is growing but because their immune systems can't fight off the flu that easily on their own. The flu can lead to pneumonia, hospitalization and worse.