Flu continues to receive a great deal of media coverage and sometimes it is hard to figure out why the media covers one story and glosses over others. Here are what we think were the most important flu stories of this past week and our comments on them:
1. A small study from Mexico showed that individuals who received seasonal flu shots and contracted H1N1 flu had a significantly lower mortality rate. In fact, none of the critically ill patients in the study who had received a seasonal flu shot died while 34% of those critically ill patients who had not received a seasonal flu shot did. We will have more and better US data, hopefully validating this study , within the next week or two.
This study’s findings were directly opposite from the findings from a small Canadian study several weeks ago.
2. The shortage of seasonal flu vaccine is widespread. Unlike other flu shot seasons, it will not resolve itself over time.
In past flu seasons when there were vaccine delays or shortages, the manufacturers would continue to make vaccine as long as necessary. This year, they have converted their production lines over to H1N1 production lines and are no longer manufacturing seasonal flu vaccine. There are always vaccine “losses” when vials are filled after their lots are approved by the FDA. This year, those fill losses are three times normal which adds to the shortage (that one has received nearly no media coverage).
As a result, most retail flu clinics (like those in Costcos and CVS pharmacies) will be ending weeks ahead of schedule as they run out of vaccine.
3. There appears to be a renewed shortage of hand sanitizer. Don’t wait until you are out before re-ordering because there are back orders.
4. Flu activity is now present in all 50 states with high activity reported in 37 states.
5. Flu “burnout” is our newest concern. Dr. Anne Schuchat from the CDC reports that we will likely see flu activity levels similar to this week’s for the next seven months (until the end of traditional flu season). Remaining vigilant for that long of a period of time will be challenging for most businesses. As we hear how different clients and employers are creatively addressing ways to prevent flu burnout, we’ll pass them along.