Native Americans are in a high risk category when it comes to developing severe complications from the flu. Compared to the general U.S population, American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people are more likely than others to get seriously ill from the flu. During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, AI/AN people were four times more likely to die from H1N1 flu.
Add asthma, diabetes, or chronic heart disease to that mix and your medical condition makes it more likely that you will get serious complications like pneumonia.
This is a good time to get a flu vaccine for yourself and your family if you haven’t already. While not 100 percent effective, the vaccine is the first and best way to prevent influenza.
Call your Indian Health Service clinic or medical provider right away to ask about antiviral drugs if you or a family member does get sick. They offer a second line of defense to treat the flu.
There are no reported shortages of flu vaccine or antivirals at IHS, urban, and tribal clinics, and flu vaccination efforts are currently underway at IHS-funded health clinics, said an IHS spokesperson who asked not to be identified.
“We recommend you contact your local IHS, tribal or urban Indian health clinic for information on where to get a flu vaccine,” the IHS spokesperson said. “For those who are not eligible to receive care from an IHS-funded facility, or who live outside of an IHS service area, the Flu Vaccine Finder tool available at www.flu.gov can help you find alternative locations where the general public can get a flu vaccine.”
Three influenza deaths among children have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) so far this season. CDC reported December 12 that despite the benefits of flu vaccination, only 40 percent of Americans 6 months and older had reported getting a flu vaccine this season as of early November 2013.
Flu vaccination prevented an estimated 6.6 million influenza-associated illnesses, 3.2 million medically attended illnesses, and 79,000 hospitalizations during last year’s flu season, according to a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
The estimated benefits of vaccination for last year’s flu season are higher than any other season for which CDC has produced similar estimates. These high numbers are attributable to the severity of the season. The report estimates that last season there were a total of 31.8 million influenza-associated illnesses, 14.4 medically attended illnesses, and 381,000 hospitalizations in the United States.
“The estimated number of hospitalizations reinforces what we have always known about flu: that it is highly variable and can be very serious,” CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH said in a statement.
Children aged 6 months through four years and persons aged 65 and older, who are among those most vulnerable to influenza, accounted for an estimated 69% of prevented hospitalizations.
“Most of estimated hospitalizations last season were in people 65 and older. This shows how hard a severe H3N2 season can hit this vulnerable group,” Frieden stated.
Frieden stated that while older adults were hardest hit last season, “there were also 169 deaths among children reported to CDC, the highest number in a non-pandemic season since this type of reporting began in 2004.”
“We could prevent even more illness by increasing use of flu vaccines among people of all ages,” Frieden said in the CDC statement. The MMWR report estimates if 70% of the population had been vaccinated last season, another 4.4 million flu illnesses, 1.8 million medically attended illnesses, and 30,000 flu hospitalizations could have been prevented.
“The bottom-line is that influenza can cause a tremendous amount of illness and can be severe,” said CDC’s Anne Schuchat, MD in a statement. “Even when our flu vaccines are not as effective as we want them to be, they can reduce flu illnesses, doctors' visits, and flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.”
Seasonal influenza activity is increasing in parts of the United States. Further increases in influenza activity across the U.S. are expected in the coming weeks.
Peak weeks of influenza activity have occurred in January through March in more than 90 percent of seasons during the past 20 years, and significant circulation can occur as late as May.