How bad was flu season last year?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes 2017-2018 as a flu season of “high severity” — as measured by counting a combination of outpatient visits, hospitalizations and deaths. The high-severity classification applied to every age group, according to the CDC.
Flu severity fluctuates each year, partly because researchers and health care officials must guess which strains will dominate in the coming season. If they guess wrong, flu vaccines will be less effective. That’s what happened last year.
Nevertheless, the CDC and other health agencies continue to encourage everyone six months old and older to get a flu vaccine by the end of October for the coming season. They say the best practice for people who aren’t severely allergic to vaccines is to get a flu vaccine every year.
A change may be coming
The flu is a miserable disease, even if it doesn’t send you to the hospital. Symptoms include:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
Not everyone with the flu will run a fever or display all of these symptoms.
When you contract the virus-borne disease, the best treatment is to stay in bed and avoid infecting others. However, there is hope on the horizon.
This year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is giving a priority review to a new drug with a novel flu-fighting mechanism. Genentech’s baloxavir marboxil has been shown in trials to reduce the duration of flu symptoms by about a day, and more important, to significantly reduce “viral shedding” that occurs when an infected person sneezes or otherwise spreads the virus.
As the FDA explains, a “priority review designation will direct overall attention and resources to the evaluation of applications for drugs that, if approved, would be significant improvements in the safety or effectiveness of the treatment, diagnosis, or prevention of serious conditions when compared to standard applications.” The FDA accepted a New Drug Application and granted priority review to baloxavir marboxil as a single-dose, oral treatment for acute, uncomplicated influenza in people 12 years and older. It works by targeting a different enzyme than existing drugs like Tamiflu, limiting the virus’s ability to reproduce itself.
Genentech said the FDA should complete its review by Dec. 24, meaning the drug may be available to treat the flu as soon as 2019.
Further down the road, work continues on a new “universal vaccine,” spurred on by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is trying to spur development of new, more effective vaccines to prevent influenza. The foundation issued the challenge this year, in conjunction with the 100-year anniversary of the deadly Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. That year, Spanish flu killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.
Providence Express Care
Want to get a flu shot or a flu test today? Visit a Providence Express Care clinic for fast care and extended hours for cold, flu and other common conditions you can’t treat at home.
Choose when and where you see a health care provider with Providence Express Care services:
Looking for a primary care physician for your family? Find a Providence St. Joseph Health provider near you:
- Providence Health Plan
- Providence Health Assurance
- St. Joseph Health (CA, TX)
We’ve written about the importance of getting an annual vaccine. Here are some posts to review:
Do adults need immunizations, too?
The flu and you: When to get vaccinated
The World Health Organization’s FluNet site tracks the progress of flu around the world each year, updating reports weekly. The CDC has a robust flu site, with news updates, statistics, guidance about treatment, etc.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.