By Michaela Gibson Morris
Public health leaders continue to worry over a flu season where young adults are being hit the hardest.
“Please, it’s not too late to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Paul Byers, deputy state epidemiologist with the Mississippi State Department of Health. “It can make a difference.”
Typically, children under 5 and older adults over 65 are the most vulnerable to the severe flu complications, such as pneumonia and respiratory failure. But young adults – who are the least likely to vaccinated – are more vulnerable to the H1N1 “swine” flu that is circulating in Mississippi and around the country. That strain is covered in this year’s vaccine.
“We are seeing severe cases of flu this year particularly in younger people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who have not beenvaccinated,” said Tupelo infectious disease specialist Dr. Malinda Prewitt. “My best advice is for people to get a flu shot. … There has never been a time for which I have been more thankful for the opportunity to have a flu vaccine than the 2013-2014 flu season.”
Although the state health department doesn’t compile definitive data on flu hospitalizations and deaths in adults during the season, the anecdotal reports paint a picture of severe flu-related illness even as the volume of reports remains just below the 2012-13 season.
“All of the adult deaths that our clinical partners have reported to us have been 20 to 55 years of age,” state epidemiologist Dr. Thomas Dobbs said last week.
North Mississippi Medical Center-Tupelo remains under influenza precautions, asking visitors to limit visits, stay away if they are sick and restrict visits of children under 15.
“It’s been a very active flu season,” said David Barber, vice president for North Mississippi Health Clinics.
Mississippians will likely need the protection a flu shot provides for months to come, Byers said.
“Most of the activity is usually in the winter months,” Byers said. “But we can see cases into April and May,” Byers said.
The flu vaccine can’t cause the flu, Prewitt said. If people become sick with the flu after having a vaccine, they are more likely to have a less severe course of the disease.
Flu vaccine is still widely available through county health departments, clinics and pharmacies.