Flu season may be deadliest in years

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This flu season is turning out to be a whopper. In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino on Wednesday declared a public health emergency after city residents came down with 700 confirmed cases 10 times more than all of last season. In Allentown, Pa., Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest has opened an emergency triage center a special tent for flu victims. In Chicago, hospitals like Northwestern Medical Center are on bypass status, meaning they turn away patients in ambulances with the flu.

Doctors are calling it the earliest and most active flu season of the millennium.

" Active is not even a strong enough word, Paul Schreckenberger, a pathology professor at Loyola, told the Chicago Tribune. It's explosive.

Yesterday, I saw a construction worker, a big strong guy in his Carhartts who looked like he could fall off a roof without noticing it, Dr. Beth Zeeman, an emergency room doctor for MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham, Mass., told the New York Times. He was in a fetal position with fever and chills, like a wet rag. When I see one of those cases, I just tighten up my mask a little.
There's no doubt that the season for influenza is going to be far more serious than any we've observed, says ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. The bad news is that even if you're vaccinated, you can still get the flu.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom notes that there is a significant problem inherent to all flu vaccines not all flu strains are covered by any single vaccine. He explains, There is not much that can be done about this yet. The three strains selected for each year s flu vaccine are determined six months before the vaccine is available. Thus, it is virtually impossible to predict each year s predominant strains with complete accuracy. The process always involves some educated guesses.

He adds, Therefore, it is quite common for a strain of flu that was not included in the vaccine to emerge and circulate. This is an imperfect system, but it is the best that we have right now, and is still far better than not getting the vaccine at all.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that this year s flu shots do seem to be a good match for the flu strains that are circulating. It can take two weeks for the vaccine s protection to kick in, but no one knows if the season has peaked yet or when it will so those who have dilly-dallied about getting their shots might want to do so now.