2.23.2008

Flu Killing Young and Healthy This Year

While it is true that this year's flu vaccine has only 40% coverage compared to previous years, that's still better than zero. Moreover, this is turning out to be a brutal year for influenza. Two young and healthy folks have died in my state in just the past week from flu-related respiratory failure. Seattle P-I:

A college student in Whatcom County died this week from a rare case of MRSA pneumonia -- prompting health officials to urge state residents to be vigilant about their health and to get a flu shot if they haven't. Chris Feden, 20, a student at Western Washington University, died Wednesday from what county health officials said was MRSA pneumonia, a rare staph infection that he may have contracted after getting the flu. Separately, an 18-year old Pacific County resident died last week from respiratory failure, which wasn't caused by MRSA pneumonia, although it was believed to have been flu-related. Respiratory illnesses, including the flu, typically peak in Washington in February and March and can be serious and even fatal. Cases of MRSA -- methicillin-resistant staph aureus -- are increasing in number nationwide, including in Washington, and can complicate influenza and other respiratory illnesses.


So why can't we get vaccinated for all the strains of influenza out there each year? Slate's explainer, explains:

It wouldn't be worth the effort, even if it were feasible. There are thousands of influenza subtypes infecting people around the world, but very few are likely to make someone in the United States sick. Vaccinating people against a disease they're never going to get is a risky proposition: We don't know how the body would respond to a barrage of flu vaccinations. The patient might also develop a strong immune response to an insignificant strain, while skimping on antibodies for a nastier virus.



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