Influenza, also known as flu, is a very contagious respiratory condition caused by the influenza viruses. It is also considered as one of the leading causes of mortality globally. The flu season occurs every year during the winter and the duration varies. The contagious period lasts for around 4 days affecting the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs while the transmission of the infection occurs rapidly particularly in the crowd. Individuals considered at high-risk such as children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable for developing flu-related complications. Here we present briefs of the news updates such as the details of the flu from the previous season, health department’s stress on the importance of annual vaccination, the benefits of flu shots for pregnant women and a new FDA approved drug.

Highest death tolls for the previous winter

According to the NBC News, around 80,000 people died of flu last winter in the U.S which is the highest toll since the winter of 1976 – 1977. The CDC report shows that in recent years the flu-related deaths ranged from around 12,000 to 56,000 people. The peak of the previous season was in early February and finished by the end of March although some types of viruses continued to circulate. CDC does not have the exact count of the total number of people who died of flu as not all cases are reported; therefore it uses statistical models in order to make the estimates. The USA Today shows that the viral strain causing most of the infection was H3N2 which was severe and even with vaccination, it has been hard to control. The pediatric deaths for the flu season 2017-2018 show 63 cases for the report by week ending Feb 3, 2018. Since the flu season started, hospitalization occurred at the rate of 59.9 per 100,000 people and the high number of patients hospitalized was at the age of 50 – 64

Importance of annual flu shots

The complications of flu that causes death include heart attack, pneumonia and stroke. Unlike the severe strain of the virus last flu season in the United States, for the current season 2018 – 2019, the agency has detected a milder strain of the virus and tests indicate the vaccine should be more effective. Although the U.S Health officials continue to stress the importance of vaccinations against the circulating flu viruses, there are several myths surrounding the vaccine. One such myth is that pregnant women don’t need it as it can harm the fetus, however, such misconceptions can often prove to be fatal. According to the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all individuals above 6 months of age should receive their annual flu shot. It is particularly important that the elderly, young children and those with chronic health ailments such as heart disease and asthma condition receive their get flu shot as they are at high risk of developing influenza-related complications and death.

CDC: Flu shots among pregnant women lower the chance of flu hospitalization

According to a press release by CDC in October 2018, the findings of a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases show that the flu shot reduced the risk of hospitalization by about 40 percent among pregnant women. Flu can develop an increased risk for pregnant women who undergo changes to their immune system, lungs and heart making them more vulnerable to severe illness. The study examined medical records of more than two million pregnant women from 2010 to 2016. The key findings include that the flu vaccine protects pregnant women during all three trimesters and the vaccine was equally protective for women with underlying health ailments such as asthma.

“Expecting mothers face a number of threats to their health and the health of their baby during pregnancy, and getting the flu shot is one of them”, explains Allison Naleway, PhD, a study co-author from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. “The study’s findings underscore the fact that there is a simple, yet impactful way to reduce the possibility of complications from flu during pregnancy: get a flu shot.”

Reports show that in the United States, during the recent flu season, only around half of the pregnant women received their flu shot. Other studies also show that flu shot not only protects the pregnant woman but can also help protect the infant from the flu infection for several months after birth.

First Pediatric death of the flu season

A child without any underlying health ailments in Florida died after testing positive for the flu. The child was not vaccinated against flu and according to the Florida Department of Health, it can lower the chance of a child’s death from flu by 60 percent. The strain of influenza virus identified was the less common strain of the virus that causes annual outbreaks.

“Influenza seasons vary in timing, severity, and length. It is not possible to predict what the 2018 – 19 influenza season will be like in Florida,” the Department of Health said. “Annual vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from influenza and its potentially severe complications. Now is the perfect time to get vaccinated.”

The virus detected by the Department of Health since July has been influenza A 2009 (H1N1) and accordingly, the forecast for the most common strains of the virus for this year is predicted as H1N1, H3 and influenza B Yamagata and Victoria. The flu vaccine for the season 2018 – 2019 can protect against all of these strains of influenza viruses.

FDA approved New Flu Treatment

After 20 years, the Food and Drug Administration has now approved the use of a new treatment for the flu. Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) has been approved for the treatment of acute uncomplicated influenza (flu) among individuals 12 years of age and older presenting symptoms not longer than 48 hours.

“When treatment is started within 48 hours of becoming sick with flu symptoms, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time patients feel sick,” said Debra Birnkrant, M.D., Director of the Division of Antiviral Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Having more treatment options that work in different ways to attack the virus is important because flu viruses can become resistant to antiviral drugs.”

In randomized clinical trials of 1,832 patients, they were administered Xofluza, a placebo or another antiviral drug within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. In both the trials, individuals given Xofluza had faster alleviation of symptoms when compared to those who took the placebo. In the second trial, there was no difference in the alleviation of symptoms between those who took Xofluza and other flu treatment.