As originally reported in CBS News; the flu has been one of humanitys traditional foes. Each season returns with new features and mutations while scientists spend time year speculating what comes next. Each time, the tiny predator takes the lives of thousands of Americans, though the severity and character of the season comes as a surprise.
The Risk for Children
2020 has meant for a particularly aggressive flu season, with 10 million cases already reported. It is not the beast it was in 2019, one of the worst contagions of recent history. However, 2020 is notable for the unforseen prominence of the rare strain, influenza B, a strain that has not made such devestating rounds since 1992-93. This variation is particularly harmful for children, who not only are particularly susceptible, but also experience atypical symptoms with particular severity. This year 41 children have lost their lives to the bug, double that of the children last year at this time.
Symptoms in children can go beyond the typically understood signs of the flu: fever, a cough, muscle aching, and fast or severe onset. They may additionally experience seizures, brain swelling, vomiting, nausea, or changes in alterness and coloration. The doctors advise if a child starts to have more severe symptoms, changes in behaviour, or discolouration, immediately take them to a hospital due to the rapid onset of the flu.
A Typical Flu Season
Doctors describe the flu as characteristically “unpredictable,” due to the difficulty to foresee what the disease will look like in any given year. A new vaccine is made annually to prevent against the likely variations of the disease. Yet only time will tell the way the virus will have mutated and which strains will pick up as the most contagious.
This comes as the second year in a row with a particularly impactful flu season. 2018 had the most deadly contagion in 40 years, with 80,000 Americans losing their lives to the virus. To put this in perspective, before this, the severe end of the spectrum was thought to be about 50,000 deaths per year, with the exception of pandemics like the 1918 flu that took 500,000 Americans over two years. While the number of overall deaths is down in comparison to this time last year, the proportion of those that are children is up.
Flu and Rare Disease
The flu is dangerous in part because it weakens the immune system, making the body more susceptible to other infections or the immune system can overreact into ´sepsis.´ Patients with rare diseases may already have compromised immune systems or other issues competing for the bodys regulatory organs and cells. For this population, it may be particularly important to avoid the flu because of the compounded effects of the intersection of flu and rare disease.
So as an annual reminder: get your flu shot, wash your hands, and avoid contagious friends and family this flu season.