It remains to be seen if virulent new strains of flu or an abnormally high incidence of the disease will strike when the nation is particularly vulnerable. No matter what measures public health officials activate to increase vaccine supplies and assure vaccination among the highest priority cohorts of the population, millions of Americans who would normally have a flu shot will be forced to go without this year.
Thus far this season, cases of influenza have been reported in 17 states, according to the weekly CDC report of October 23. This is likely the calm before the storm, because a typical flu season entails in excess of ten million cases of influenza in the U.S., causing some 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths. With limited vaccine available, flu incidence and its impact this year could be far worse.
Given the situation, several steps have emerged as the best available courses of action:
1. Assure that available vaccine, including nasal-spray vaccines for appropriate age groups, are administered to those at highest risk: infants and young children, those with chronic or immuno-compromising diseases, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes the elderly and health care workers and caregivers.
2. Encourage reasonable hygiene precautions for everyone, including frequent and thorough hand washing. People are also being urged to remain home if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
3. Assiduously identify, track and treat flu outbreaks.
Diagnostic tests available for influenza inclu