Mis­er­able flu sea­son may be around the cor­ner

Hur­ri­canes, fires add new chal­lenges

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Karen Wein­traub

This could be a par­tic­u­larly rough flu sea­son, of­fi­cials warned Thurs­day — pos­si­bly made worse by hur­ri­canes and wild­fires that have dis­rupted med­i­cal rou­tines and forced peo­ple into close con­tact at shel­ters.

Any­one over 6 months old should be get­ting an an­nual flu shot, said Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price at a news con­fer­ence en­cour­ag­ing Amer­i­cans to get vac­ci­nated. Flu sea­son usu­ally starts in Oc­to­ber.

Since 2010, an­nual hos­pi­tal­iza­tions for the flu ranged from 140,000 to 710,000 and deaths from 12,000 to 56,000, Price said.

Nearly 47% of Amer­i­cans got the vac­cine last year, a 1.2% in­crease from the year be­fore, but still not good enough, Price said.

The flu vac­cine does not of­fer per­fect pro­tec­tion, said Wil­liam Schaffner, med­i­cal di­rec­tor for the Na­tional Foun­da­tion for In­fec­tious Dis­eases. The vac­cine is ef­fec­tive 40% to 60% of the time, he said, but it also re­duces the risk of se­vere disease and hos­pi­tal­iza­tion: “With the ‘pretty good’ vac­cine, we can do an aw­ful lot of good.”

Hur­ri­canes in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean and fires in the West may add a new di­men­sion this year by in­ter­fer­ing with med­i­cal care for peo­ple who have been dis­placed, said Kjer­sti Aa­gaard, a spe­cial­ist at Texas Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal in Hous­ton.

And with peo­ple in shel­ters or bunk­ing with fam­ily mem­bers, viruses can pass more eas­ily, she said: “We’re hit­ting the flu sea­son kind of with a per­fect storm.”

There should be plenty of vac­cine this year, Price said: 166 mil­lion doses are avail­able.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS, AP

Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price gets a flu shot Thurs­day at his news con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton.

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