It feels like every winter, we're warned of a catastrophic flu hiding in every handshake and clinging to every doorknob, just waiting to infect us and ruin the holidays. This year it actually seems...true? The L.A. Times reports that an influenza A strain known as H3N2 is making so many people sick, it is now considered a full-fledged epidemic.
It has gotten so bad in California, that a number of hospitals have set up "surge tents" for patients showing up for treatment. This is something usually reserved for large scale natural disasters.
There are at least four hospitals in California that have pulled out a "surge tent" to treat the huge numbers of patients who are sick with the flu. Usually the tents are used for major disasters, like earthquakes and fires.— Soumya (@skarlamangla) January 13, 2018
The nurse running the ER at Loma Linda said that since New Year's Day the hospital has basically been in a state of emergency because of the sheer volume of patients coming in. She said she's never seen anything like it.— Soumya (@skarlamangla) January 13, 2018
But part of the patient surge is fear. People are genuinely sick, but there has been a lot of media coverage related to deaths from this flu strain, which makes folks more cautious about seeking out treatment.
She said that because there's been so much media coverage of flu deaths, people who get the flu get freaked out that they're going to die, so they show up at the ER. I acknowledge I am part of the problem 😶— Soumya (@skarlamangla) January 13, 2018
The deaths are terrifying. This time last year, nine people under 65 had died of the flu in California. This year that number has risen to 42. CBS News reports that 20 of them were children.
It's not just in California—the flu has been spreading everywhere. In Idaho, an entire school district has been shut down, according to ABC 7. Cleaning crews are now sanitizing the facilities.
In North Carolina, 160 students were out with "flu-like symptoms," and the school was shut down.
Officials say that part of the issue was the flu season started earlier than usual this year, and had longer to take hold. Usually, flu season peaks in February, so there is still some weeks of potential contagion time to go.
It's the most epic epidemic in almost ten years:
The Center For Disease Control is trying to warn people what the symptoms are, and how not to spread the illness. This particular strain makes people sicker for longer, which also spreads contagion.
Obviously, wash your hands, use Purell, and don't send your sick kids to class. But the most effective way to fight the flu is to get vaccinated.
Very unfortunately, many people have misinformed ideas about the safety of vaccinations, or mistakenly believe that if they're healthy and young, they don't need one.
Even if you are strong enough to withstand the flu or not have it severely effect you, herd immunity protects more vulnerable populations, like the elderly or young children.
Take care of yourselves and get a flu shot to help take care of others.