The influenza season is, thankfully, coming to an end. This year the death toll has been very concerning. Some of the data is expected, namely that the deaths occurred in those age groups most vulnerable to the most serious effects of influenza, the very young and the very old. This year the problem was made worse because the influenza vaccine had limited effectiveness. Most do not understand why this happens. Next year’s vaccine is based on this year’s epidemic and this year’s known viruses. However, between now and next year, many of the strains of viruses will have mutated, i.e. changed their genetic structure, making them less sensitive to the vaccine or, in some cases, not at all.
Some analysis of this season’s influenza deaths has been done by infectious disease experts and the data is disturbing, yet not totally unexpected. A review of almost one thousand patients that died this year from the flu showed that the majority of deaths were women and the majority were white. Those who died were more likely to have been admitted to a hospital for treatment. Interestingly, most of the deaths occurred within 30 days of discharge, not in the hospital itself. Those who died were more likely to be elderly (85 years or older). 80% of survivors came from private residences, but those who died after discharge were evenly split between nursing homes and private residences.
Let us all hope some progress will be made in the development of a universal vaccine.