Vaccines still recommended as flu season wanes

PROVIDENCE — Flu vaccinations remain your best defense as Rhode Island’s reported influenza-like illnesses continue to wane.

Flu-like illnesses comprised of 2.2 percent of all reported ailments in the state in at the end of March, down from a peak of nearly 8 percent from February 4-10, according to the Department of Health Monday.

Still, the DOH marks the current severity of flu as “widespread,” the highest of the agency’s tiers. There have been 1,193 flu-related hospitalizations so far, similar to the last flu season, when the state recorded roughly 1,300 hospitalizations. The state reports 41 influenza-associated deaths as of March 28: One in the 25-49 age group, three in the 50-64 age group, and 37 older than 65.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not estimate the number of overall deaths, providing a percentage range instead. For the week ending March 10, about 7.7 percent of deaths occurring in the U.S. were due to pneumonia and influenza.

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Flu deaths in children, however, which are nationally notifiable, are reported to the CDC. The agency reports there have been 137 child deaths related to flu nation-wide during the 2017-2018 flu season.

The last two flu-related deaths reported the week of March 4–10 were attributable to Influenza A and Influenza B. As the flu season has moved into its later weeks, cases of flu caused by Influenza B have begun to increase, according to the CDC.

In Rhode Island, the DOH reported a total of 96 cases of influenza A, and 83 cases of influenza B during the week ending March 24.

The CDC recommends everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine every season. Vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza. People at high risk of complications include:

CDC studies of the effectiveness of the flu vaccine this season show that as of Feb. 3, 2018 the vaccine reduced the risk needing to see a doctor due to flu by 36% overall, according to the agency. The vaccine’s effectiveness against H3N2 viruses was 25 percent; Against H1N1 67 percent and against B viruses was 42 percent, the CDC reports.

Both the DOH and the CDC advise getting vaccinated against the flu regardless of the vaccine’s reported effectiveness, since some protection is better than none, and vaccinations that don’t prevent the flu often reduce the severity of complications from the illness, which can cause hospitalizations and deaths.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.