Vanika Idnani lived across the globe in Australia, but the 3-year-old’s death could be a harbinger for the coming flu season in the U.S.
The little girl is the most recent victim of a virulent strain of flu well-known to doctors everywhere.
And that strain is already showing up this flu season in America. How the U.S. responds depends on how influenza-experts engineered this year’s vaccine and whether residents get a flu shot — which can be done on a quick trip to the grocery or drug store or at school.
Convincing people to take advantage of that opportunity is another story.
“It’s sort of odd. One country’s experience doesn’t always mean it will be our experience,” said Lynnette Brammer, an epidemiologist in the influenza division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Flu is just really hard to anticipate what it is going to do. There are a lot of factors.”
For instance, while Australia, Hong Kong and Southern China had a bad flu season, New Zealand did not, she said. Still, in Australia, more than 50 people have died from the flu this year, including little Vanika. The culprit is the H3N2 strain of the flu which has already surfaced this summer.
Loxahatchee teenager Jenny Spell knows all too well the danger of this strain. The Palm Beach Post earlier this year chronicled Spell’s near-death struggle with the flu that forced her onto a heart-lung machine for five days and required a kidney transplant and nearly a year-long rehabilitation.
Spell encourages everyone to get a flu shot because it is unknown whose immune system might be the one that can’t fight it off. “If you won’t do it to protect yourself, do it to protect the people you love,” said Spell, now a college student at the University of Florida.
Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, echoes Spell’s sentiments: “You might not only be protecting yourself you will be protecting a young baby or an elderly person who may be next to you.”
Even if someone comes down with a flu strain not included in the vaccine, he or she will get less sick than if they didn’t get the shot, she added.
Dr. Allan Greissman, a specialist at Pediatric Critical Care of South Florida in Hollywood, said he is concerned about the myths about the flu vaccination. Few excuses for not getting the flu shot carry any weight, doctors say.
Healthy people who live a gluten-free life can get the flu as easily as someone who lives on Twinkies. There are options for pregnant women or people with allergies. Few people ever have an adverse reaction to the vaccine. Putting it off is not wise since it takes two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect.
Also, the vaccine carries a dead virus so that it can’t give anyone the disease.
“We are very concerned about the upcoming flu season especially because of all the bad publicity the flu shot has been getting,” Greissman said. “Our practice has seen an upswing in the number of influenza positive patients; I strongly urge the community to get vaccinated this season.”
Free shots at school
Once again, the Palm Beach County School District and the local offices of the state Health Department have teamed with Healthy Schools LLC to deliver flu shots to all of the county’s schools, including charter schools that are interested in participating.
Getting the shot requires a parent to fill out permission forms that went home earlier in this year. If parents haven’t seen the form and want their child to be vaccinated, they should call the school. There’s no out of pocket fee for the shots and all students can get them.
The vaccination is a shot. No more nasal mist. The flu shots will be administered at schools beginning Oct. 23 and running through Nov. 13. Check with your school for the date they’ll be on campus.
The New York Times reported it was Australia’s lackadaisical attitude toward preventive medicine that fueled that country’s recent flu spike.
Those most vulnerable to the deadliness of the flu strain are young children and the elderly. The rest of us will miss work or school suffering fever, chills, congestion, body aches, and sore throat.
Flu isn’t cheap either. The CDC estimated $10.4 billion each year is spent on direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults who contract flu viruses.
Still, Australia could be good news for the U.S. flu season, which starts typically in October and peaks in January or February. Australia has 93,711 laboratory-confirmed cases reported in 2017, which dwarfed the flu outbreak the previous year.
“We get the benefit from seeing these trends around the world,” Alonso said.
Florida usually runs a little behind the rest of the country as the flu hits colder climes first and then winter visitors bring it to Florida during tourist season. The state has sentinel physicians reporting what strains are out there.
“The bottom line for the public is that it’s very important to get the flu vaccine,” she said. “We have a lot more places to get vaccines. They are often not even asking for a copay now.”
Some Floridians may even come out ahead. Publix Supermarkets is offering a $10 grocery coupon for every adult who gets immunized from the flu. Walgreens, CVS and other outlets administer flu shots to children as well and others offer coupons, too.
Nicole Krauss, a Publix spokeswoman, said the $10 coupon is even open to employees. “It’s an opportunity to assert ourselves in the health and wellness community, to be a community partner,” she said.
Five Reasons To Get A Flu Shot Now
- The Flu Season Is Just Starting: The CDC suggests getting a flu shot as the season starts. It takes awhile for the vaccine to get up to full speed.
- You Touch Everything: The virus lurks in places you wouldn’t think. Everyone is vulnerable to picking up the virus.
- A Flu Shot Won’t Make You Sick: It’s a myth. The vaccine is made up of antibodies, an inactive virus that can’t transmit infection.
- Do It For Others: You can unknowingly pass on the flu to your spouse, your children and those vulnerable, like the elderly
- The flu can kill: The recent pandemic in Australia killed more than 70.