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Chocolate and Red Wine: Protective Against the Flu?

During this long and unforgiving winter season, we really wish that chocolate and red wine were protective against the flu.

The flu season of 2014-2015 has been a challenging one, with what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) calls “mismatched” H3N2 viruses being prevalent across the nation.  As noted in an earlier post, that means that many of the strains of flu that actually appeared were different from those in this year’s vaccine.  This occurs in part because experts must choose which strains to include in a vaccine many months before it becomes available to the public.  In the interim, other strains can become prevalent.

The good news is that we may have passed the peak of the season.  The bad news is that flu activity remains strong and has even presented at least one symptom not typically associated with it. 

Influenza activity usually peaks in February, so in a normal year we would at or beyond the highest levels of infection.  However, the CDC cautions that in some years, outbreaks may last into May.

As to the numbers, the CDC says that flu-related hospitalization rates for those 65 and older are the highest since they began tracking that statistic in 2005, accounting for 60 percent of overall hospitalizations associated with the flu.  Children age 4 and younger have the second-highest rate of hospitalization, but that number is more in line with the 2012-2013 season, the last time the H3N2 virus was predominant.

Multiple states have also reported laboratory-confirmed instances of parotitis, or swelling of the salivary glands, a symptom not normally associated with the flu.  Most of these occurrences have involved children with Influenza A (H3) virus and fortunately have been associated with only mild illness.

As to whether this year’s activity constitutes an epidemic, the CDC says that every year’s flu season meets that definition.  Adult deaths due to flu are not tracked by the CDC, in part because many adults have underlying medical conditions that may be aggravated by influenza, making it difficult to determine an exact cause of death.

Unchanged in the 2014-2015 season is the CDC’s advice for preventing flu, that everyone 6 months of age or older receive the flu vaccine.  The only modification to that recommendation this year was that healthy children ages 2 to 8 receive the nasal vaccine (FAIV), which recent studies suggest may be more effective than flu shots for that age group.

For those who get the flu despite being vaccinated, or were not vaccinated at all, antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu are recommended to reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms.

For more information about the flu and flu vaccine contact the experts at Cogency at solutions@cogencyteam.com.

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