Fifteen year-old Kira Molina, a previously healthy girl, died just five days after first presenting flu symptoms in early February. She was Georgia’s first pediatric death as a result of this season’s particularly devastating flu outbreak.
Most years, the flu is typically regarded as having about the same severity as the common cold. We like to think the days of chilling mortality rates, like those associated with the Spanish flu, are far behind us. Although as a society we have advanced with cutting-edge research that has greatly improved the way we treat viruses like the flu, this season’s outbreak has revealed vulnerabilities in the dispersion of modern medicine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths as a result of this season’s flu in the United States surpassed the epidemic threshold of 7.2 percent. That statistic includes 63 pediatric deaths reported this season alone. The number of children and adults who received a flu shot by early November 2017 was substantially lower — by 3.7 percent — than in previous years at the same time. Approximately two out of five children and adults received a flu shot by early November 2017.
It is no surprise that that rise in the occurrence and spread of the flu coincided with a decrease in the proportion of the U.S. population that received the vaccination. Despite medical professionals’ nearly universal recommendation that patients get the flu vaccination, the percentage of those who opt out continues to rise.
The fear of contracting the virus from the vaccine itself is a common misconception that deters some from getting vaccinated. But that’s false, according to the CDC. The flu vaccine does not contain active viruses and cannot infect you. The Mayo Clinic cites many other causes of flu-like symptoms which may surface such as unexpected flu strains, other illnesses and the two-week lag between receiving the shot and being protected from the virus.
Others question the vaccine’s effectiveness. But one must weigh the costs of refusing the vaccine with the potential benefits. Barring the rare occurrence of a severe reaction to the vaccination — a 2012 World Health Organization report estimated a rate of one to two severe reactions per 1,000,000 doses — there aren’t many downfalls to getting the vaccination besides the small time sacrificed to travel to the doctor. According to the CDC the benefits, on the other hand, include a substantially reduced risk of catching the flu as well as reducing the severity of the flu if you contract it, which is especially important this season given the nationwide Tamiflu shortage.
Given how contagious the flu has proven to be, a vaccination that prevents even one person from contracting the flu would prevent multitudes of others contracting it from them. “Some people are more likely to develop severe illness from flu, especially people 65 years and older, children younger than 5 years, people with certain high-risk medical conditions and pregnant women,” the CDC reports. Since New Year’s Day, there have been 193 cases reported on Emory’s campus alone as of Feb. 10, the Wheel reported. While to the average, healthy college student the flu means missing class for a few days, for so many it poses a much higher risk. A total of 11,230 people have died from the flu this season alone. Three hundred and thirteen of those deaths have occurred in Georgia since the start of 2018.
Receiving a vaccination is key to decreasing the rate of infection, thereby giving researchers the time to develop effective antiviral therapies to treat those who are more vulnerable. This will ultimately decrease the number of people exposed to the virus.
Madison Stephens is a College freshman from Little Rock, Ark.