Tell Patients: It’s Not All About YOU

By Art Caplan [cross-posted on MedScape]

This flu season is proving to be a doozy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta say that this is one of the worst flu seasons ever. The agency reported severe flu cases in 46 states during the last week of December 2012. Eighteen states are considered to be at epidemic levels.

Hospital emergency rooms are swamped with flu patients. Hospitalizations from the flu are already in the thousands. Days of work being lost are escalating rapidly.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has declared a public health emergency in that city because of a sharp rise in cases of flu. Boston has had nearly 700 confirmed cases of influenza since the season began last October. That is a 10-fold jump over the 70 confirmed cases in the previous year.

Eighteen children and infants are dead because of the flu this season. The CDC doesn’t track flu deaths of people over 18. But many more people who are in the highest-risk groups — the elderly, the immune-compromised, those who have respiratory or cardiac conditions — certainly have died over the past few months from the flu.

The best protection against the flu is a flu shot. This year the efficacy of the flu shot is about 70%. That’s not a great number, but it’s good enough to require that doctors and nurses make sure that their patients are vaccinated.

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