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Published On: Tue, Feb 25th, 2014

Younger population more susceptible to recent flu

There is a new trend in flu instances and it involves the normally healthy cohort of 18-64 year olds.  This year, the “younger” population has represented 61% of all flu-related hospitalizations, almost double the 35% hospitalization rate of previous years.

Image/CDC

Image/CDC

The latest CDC report, which came out February 20th and is part of the much larger Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), also stated that over half of flu-related deaths have occurred in this usually healthy population.

The reason for this sudden spike can be mostly attributed to vaccinations, or lack thereof.  Normally, about 45% of the population gets a vaccine in any given year, with young children, elderly individuals, and pregnant women receiving the greatest push to get vaccinated.  Only one third of individuals aged 18 to 64 got their vaccine this year.  Doing a little math shows us that only 20% of that group was vaccinated, compared with about 63% of the very young and very old.

According to the CDC, this year’s vaccine works about 62% effectively, with side effects ranging from a sore arm to cold-like symptoms lasting no more than a couple days.  The effectiveness of the vaccine, like many others, relies on herd immunity to strengthen the unvaccinated by making sure most others are vaccinated, reducing the available reservoirs for the disease.  These low vaccine numbers in the group that is most active in the community and therefore most likely to come in contact with a carrier is a key reason for this spike in hospitalizations and deaths.

With this in mind, it is pertinent to note that flu season is not over.  In the same report, the CDC noted that 24 states issued warnings of “widespread” flu activity.  “Widespread” is defined as more than 50% of a state’s geographical region reporting flu activity.  While a given state reports occurrence and not severity of illness, the reports come from doctor’s offices and public health officials who would primarily see individuals suffering more severe cases.

Each year, the CDC estimates that between 3,000 and 49,000 individuals die of flu and flu-related illness.  It is not too late to get vaccinated.

Edward Marks is a PhD student at the University of Delaware.  His research involves the healing of burns and other chronic wounds using nanomedicine techniques, with the goal of pushing any advancement directly into the clinic.  Edward received his BS from Rutgers University and Mastersfrom the University of Delaware.

 

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