On Thursday, officials from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a statement warning that the influenza strain that caused the 2009 swine flu pandemic, H1N1, is back with a vengeance. Since January, the flu has contributed to “epidemic” numbers of deaths among middle-aged and young Americans. The CDC suspects that flu activity will continue for at least another few weeks, and is emphasizing that it’s not too late to get a shot.
“Flu can be serious for anyone, and it can kill. Vaccination is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself,” the CDC’s director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, noted this week.
Although the flu typically takes the biggest toll on elderly Americans, this year’s H1N1 strain is hitting younger people the hardest. Young and healthy Americans typically skip out on getting vaccinated for influenza, since they assume they don’t need to take the extra precaution. So they’ve been left especially vulnerable this season. The hospitalization rate for people 18 and 64 has doubled, now representing 61 percent of all flu-related hospitalizations. And more than 60 percent of this winter’s flu deaths have occurred among people between the ages of 25 and 65.
The stories of unexpected deaths have been heartbreaking cautionary tales. In Arkansas, a woman lost her unborn child after coming down with H1N1, only to lose her own life a month later. Another pregnant woman in Los Angeles also recently passed away. In San Francisco, a healthy 47-year-old women who worked at a local ABC News affiliate died from the flu just a few days after she started feeling sick — and now, her family is urging strangers to get their vaccinations.
The outbreak appears to be hitting California the hardest, where 243 people under the age of 65 have died from the flu so far this year. That’s a dramatic spike from last season, when just 26 people in that demographic had died by this point. Hospitals are overflowing in the Golden State, and medical professionals have been forced to set up makeshift tents to quarantine people with flulike symptoms.
The CDC is encouraging every American to get a flu shot — including pregnant women, who sometimes incorrectly assume they should avoid vaccinations to ensure a healthy pregnancy. The only exception is babies under six months. Since the influenza vaccination is considered a preventative health service under Obamacare, it’s covered free of charge for Americans with private health insurance.
“We are committed to the development of better flu vaccines, but existing flu vaccines are the best preventive tool available now. This season vaccinated people were substantially better off than people who did not get vaccinated. The season is still ongoing. If you haven’t yet, you should still get vaccinated,” Dr. Frieden urged in the CDC’s new statement.