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Influenza Virus Epidemic of 2019-2020: January 14th Update

By Dr. Arthur Lavin

Readers of Real Answers with Dr. Arthur Lavin will remember that nearly every posting on the influenza virus reminds us that this is a virus that mysteriously appears every year around the same time, and just as strangely, disappears every year in an equally predictable manner.

The Middle Phases of the 2019-2020 Influenza Virus Epidemic

We are definitely in the middle of this flu epidemic. As is typical for flu epidemics it began in December and will go strong through most of spring.

The strength of the epidemic this year is very typical for prior years. There is lots of infection with influenza virus across the United States. The chance of a cold or flu or viral infection being due to the influenza virus remains at about 10 to 20%, no matter how mild or severe the illness.

This epidemic has a bounce.  A few weeks ago, it appeared as though the epidemic might be abating, but it was not to be.  The presence of influenza virus across the country, and across Ohio has bounced up, it is still around, still widespread.  As of the latest report, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm#ILIMap, which typically lags 7-14 days behind any moment in time, makes the bounce very clear.

Even so, some early indicators may still hold up.  Only once the epidemic truly ends, almost always by the end of March or April, will we know for sure, but these trends continue to hold:

  • This season may turn out to be in the middle range for severity, not the worst, not the mildest.
  • We still have 2-3 more months of influenza virus epidemic across Ohio, and the US.
  • Be very wary of scary news reports, when we say the vast majority of children infected with the influenza virus do fine, we really mean it.

Thankfully once again the data on the number of children who actually died from this infection show that this is a very very rare event.

A word on Tamiflu. As in past years the information on this medication remains the same. First it doesn’t work very well. In study after study prompt use of Tamiflu, meaning using it with in 24 to 48 hours of onset, may shift a illness from lasting 7 days to 6 and 1/2 days. We would advise that dropping the length of an illness from 7 days to 6 and 1/2 days is going to be nearly imperceptible. Even worse if you start the medication even 48 hours after the first sniffle it won’t even do that. For children there was a particular concern. It happens rarely but is now known to be a real side effect that some children take Tamiflu will suffer the experience of a seizure. The combination of very limited benefit coupled with a rare but quite worrisome side effect informs the decision of many infectious disease experts as well as the doctors at Advanced Pediatrics not to recommend the use of this medication.

BOTTOM LINES

  1. The 2018-2019 influenza virus is here, it showed up right on time.  This winter’s epidemic remains in full swing, many people have the infection, severity appears moderate, a fairly typical winter of high fevers and coughs.
  2. Influenza virus infections tend, overwhelmingly, to be not so dangerous to most healthy children.

 

Of course, we all hope this year’s epidemic is mild, and whatever the virus does, we are here to help.

To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin

 

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