By Susan Burke March
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the 2018 flu season is upon us, most virulently in North America and Australia where influenza A (H3N2) remains predominant and activity remains high.
In the Caribbean and Central American countries respiratory illnesses and flu remain low. In tropical areas of South America the cases are reportedly low to none.
However, in the temperate zone of the Southern Hemisphere, influenza remained “overall at inter-seasonal levels.”
In the U.S., the 2018 influenza virus has killed more children than would normally be expected at this time of year. As reported by the Washington Post, this year’s flu season “is already the most widespread on record since health officials began keeping track 13 years ago.” NBC News writes that healthy young adults and children as well as the usual sick and elderly are victims, and explains that there are three main reasons that the flu kills, and sometimes surprisingly quickly.
There are three main reasons:
- Co-infection with another germ, usually bacteria such as strep
- Aggravation of existing conditions such as heart disease and asthma
- A so-called ‘cytokine storm’ marked by an overwhelming immune system response to infection.
According to PassportHealth.com, the H3N2 strain mutates at a faster rate and spreads with more severity, and also appears to cause an unusually high rate of complications.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), vaccine effectiveness can vary from year to year, and although there is not yet a “universal vaccine” the vaccines recommended for the Northern Hemisphere are typically adjusted differently for the Southern Hemisphere. Going to be traveling in both hemispheres? There’s no harm in getting two flu shots, knowing that it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to offer full protection. Read more from the WHO here. Although the flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective, according to the American Society for Microbiology, may be of some benefit by lessening the severity of symptoms among those who do get the flu.
Typical flu symptoms include body aches, fever, sore throat, cough, exhaustion, congestion, and in rare cases vomiting and diarrhea.
The CDC says “Take 3” Actions to Fight the Flu
- Take time to get your flu vaccine.
- Take everyday preventative actions to stop the spread of germs, including staying home if you’re sick, washing your hands frequently, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, Ecuador spent $10 million to acquire 3.9 million doses of flu vaccine “amid a flu outbreak that has afflicted nearly 500 people and claimed 23 lives.” As of January 25, nearly one million people have been vaccinated. They report that the majority of cases reported have been in Quito and the surrounding province of Pichincha. Priority for vaccines is given to children under 5, pregnant women, people over 65 and those suffering from chronic illnesses, as well as health care personnel.
It’s not too late to get your flu shot. Last week my husband and I walked into the Ministerio de Salud on Avenida 12 de Abril near the Hospital Militar, walked upstairs, showed our cedulas, and got the flu vaccine. I was told by an expat friend that vaccination will be available in Centros de Salud and hospitals, especially for people in the high-risk category, which includes folks over 65, through January 31.