The 2017-18 Flu Epidemic

The 2017 flu, defined

The 2017-18 flu season has been officially stamped as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Unfortunate numbers reported by the CDC show that over 9% of all deaths during the first week of January were related to pneumonia and influenza (the expected percentage was under 7%), and that there have been 37 pediatric deaths stemming from the 2017-18 flu season.

What is an Epidemic?

The CDC defines an epidemic as “an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area.” This is not quite the same as a pandemic, where the definition is similar, but on a global scale. The CDC has been very clear that this current flu season is only considered to be an epidemic, not a pandemic.

Nearly every state in the country have consistently reported high levels of patients affected by the flu and flu-related conditions. These numbers have been generally increasing, and it is still unknown when they will subside.

How do the numbers stack up?

Historically speaking, flu season lasts from approximately October to May every year, and the “peak” of flu season always changes. The graph below demonstrates that for the past 36 years, flu season has most often peaked in February. Given this data, we may not have yet seen the worst of this season’s epidemic.

Despite the grim statistics thus far, compared to recent years, this has not been the worst flu season. The 2009 season was considered to be a pandemic and claimed the lives of over 12,000 Americans alone, and sent nearly 300,000 people to the hospital. Based on the CDC’s most recent reports, there are currently about 12,000 hospitalizations for the flu so far this season. Although these  numbers aren’t nearly as dire, it is important to remember that the flu may still be spreading, and healthcare professionals should help prevent further spread of the flu.

Image Source: Centers for Disease Control

What can I do?

Early vaccination reports show that currently, only about 38.5% of adults have received a flu vaccination this season. Last year, approximately 43.3% of adults were vaccinated, suggesting that many patients who would typically consider receiving vaccinations have not yet done so. This provides a great opportunity for your pharmacy to speak with your patients about their day to day health, and how they are trying to prevent the spread of the flu.

Patients are visiting your pharmacy frequently, sometimes more than once a month. Given that the flu season lasts until early May, you still have the opportunity to speak with your patients about the importance of receiving a flu vaccination. Many of your patients may not even be aware that this current flu season has become declared an epidemic, or that it has not yet hit its peak!

Hospitalizations and fatalities of any variety are upsetting, especially when modern medicine can help to prevent such diagnoses. Speak with your patients, especially those with young children or who are over the age of 65, to ensure that they understand how to stay healthy for the remainder of this flu season.

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