Flu season more severe this year, especially for infants

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Hospitals are seeing a surge in respiratory-related illnesses, including influenza and RSV. The overwhelming amount of patients is causing those with less-urgent illnesses to experience higher waiting times. (Pexels)

The number of flu hospitalizations in the U.S. this year are higher than usual, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has reported at least 880,000 flu illnesses, 6,900 hospitalizations and 360 deaths from flu, including the first influenza-associated pediatric death this week.

To protect oneself from the flu the CDC recommends getting vaccinated, however, vaccination rates are lower than typical for this time of year. This year, 128 million doses of the flu vaccine have been distributed, compared to 140 million in 2021 and 156 million in 2020.

Pre-nursing student Brian Llewellyn noted the importance of vaccinations.

“I’d say I agree with the CDC on the recommendations for influenza vaccine, as it’s usually free on insurance or very affordable at a local drugstore,” Llewellyn said. “The amount of lives saved with vaccines and modern medicine dwarfs the outliers that experience complications.”

The Mayo Clinic defines the flu as an infection of the nose, throat and lungs, which are all part of the respiratory system. Influenza, however, is “commonly called the flu, but it’s not the same as stomach flu viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting.”

Influenza is much more deadly, and more commonly affects children under two years old and people over 65, as well as expectant mothers, American Indians or Alaska Natives, those with chronic illnesses and people with a body mass index of 40 or higher.

“Although the annual influenza vaccine isn’t 100% effective, it reduces the chances of having severe complications from infection,” the Mayo Clinic reports.

American Fork resident Jackson Cannell contracted influenza during the winter of 2021.

“It was awful. I thought it was COVID because at that time everyone was getting COVID but then when I went to the ER they were like, ‘no, it’s not COVID, it’s worse,'” Cannell said.

Cannell reported being sick for eight days.

Additionally, there has been a surge in Respiratory Syncytial Virus, most commonly affecting infants, premature babies, young children with chronic lung or heart disease, older adults and people with weakened immune systems.

Hospitals are overwhelmed by the early surge in RSV patients, resulting in long waits or extended emergency room stays as those with less-urgent illnesses wait for bed spaces.

To help protect against these infections, public health officials are urging parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 and influenza and be cautious about spreading germs. While RSV can lead to more serious infections including bronchiolitis and pneumonia, this is most common in children under the age of one. Healthy adults and infants over the age of six months infected with RSV do not usually need to be hospitalized.

Pfizer has reported promising data and Breakthrough Therapy Designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the first maternal RSV vaccine, seeking FDA approval this year.

The vaccine is administered to healthy pregnant women aged 18-49, who were vaccinated between 28 and 36 weeks gestation and their infants, according to Pfizer. The women make antibodies that cross the placenta and protect the baby after birth.

The trial has proved over 80% effective and has cut a baby’s risk of needing to see a doctor for an RSV infection by half, according to Pfizer.

“Today’s decision is a pivotal next step in our path towards potential regulatory approval for our maternal RSV vaccine candidate and is an important milestone in our efforts to help address the detrimental impact RSV disease has on infants,” Kathrin U. Jansen, Ph.D., Senior Vice President and Head of Vaccine Research & Development at Pfizer Inc. said in a press release.

Pfizer is continuing their vaccine development, according to the press release.

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