Antiviral meds have long been prescribed by health officials, but all the more so this season as flu becomes more widespread and dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a new alert recently, highlighting that influenza activity in the United States continues to stay at elevated levels.
The Worrisome Statistics
In a press briefing and update on the flu season just last January 9, CDC Director Tom Frieden said that “It’s shaping up to be a bad year for flu especially for older people and people with underlying conditions.” This year’s flu (with H3N2 as the predominant strain) has already become widespread, and while vaccinations could still be effective against it, some reports suggest that vaccine effectiveness will be lower this year. Based on CDC’s update, here are some of the more worrisome statistics:
- In the age group over 65, hospitalization rates have risen sharply. Last week’s hospitalization rate of 52 per 100,000 has risen to 92 per 100,000.
- The influenza-related pediatric deaths for the season have risen to 26, and that’s just the reported ones. Based on past investigations, the actual number of children who have died because of flu could actually even be higher.
- The reason vaccine effectiveness could be lower this year is that out of all the analyzed H3N2 viruses this season, about two-thirds are different from the one that’s included in this year’s flu vaccine. Thus, if you catch a different strain, the vaccine alone (without antiviral meds) will most likely not work on you.
- In terms of outpatient illness surveillance, the influenza-related outpatient visits are at 5.6%, which is above the national baseline of 2%. When you look at the per-region data, all 10 regions have reported data that’s above region-specific baseline levels.
High Risk Cases
These are only some of the statistics that should really cause concern, especially for those who are at risk. If you start feeling flu-like symptoms, you should definitely check with your physician or any health practitioner as soon as possible. It’s best to treat flu at the onset and with antiviral meds, and this is especially true for high-risk patients like the ones who are:
- 65 or older
- Young children (especially if younger than 2 years old)
- Pregnant women
- Diabetic people
- People with asthma and other lung diseases
- People with other chronic or underlying medical conditions
The Importance of Antiviral Medicine
Tom Frieden in his press briefing couldn’t highlight the importance of antiviral medicine enough. He mentioned that “Antiviral treatment can mean the difference between a milder illness and a stay in the hospital or intensive care unit or even death.” And while antiviral meds can really save lives, the reality is that they are being underutilized even today.
This is why the CDC is pushing the use of antiviral meds for all health practitioners and everyone else who might encounter flu in the coming season. With the worrisome statistics alone, it’s important for us to arm ourselves and make sure we are capable of combating the reality of influenza.
The advisory to physicians that has been sent by the CDC mentions that antiviral flu medicine should be immediately given as soon as the flu symptoms begin to appear (within the first two days). There are several reasons for this:
- Giving the antiviral meds at the beginning of the appearance of symptoms can actually shorten the time that a patient is sick with flu. Prolonging the period of sickness opens the door for complications and the worsening of the condition.
- Because this flu season is potentially bad and the statistics are not exactly encouraging, prompt treatment with antiviral meds can actually be life-saving. The CDC goes as far as saying doctors shouldn’t wait for test results confirming the condition especially when flu-like symptoms are exhibited by high-risk patients. When doctors wait too long, sometimes the flu will have already escalated into such a bad condition that the antiviral meds can do little to no good.
- Treatment with antiviral meds is even more important than it usually is, because they’re the only types of medicine that can treat influenza, especially in the context of a less effective vaccination.
This said, CDC still recommends that people get their flu shots, because this is still the best first line of defense that you have against flu. “CDC has recommended the use of antiviral drugs as an adjunct to vaccination,” which means it’s really just a supplementary thing.
Before you find yourself needing to take antiviral meds, you need to get your flu shots, and for this you can go to your neighborhood supermarket. Guarding your body from this season’s flu can be as simple as taking the Costco Flu Shot Service or the Walgreens Flu Shot Service the next time you go for your grocery run.