Dr. Lyle Berkowitz explains why the 2019 flu season may affect more Americans and how telehealth represents a convenient, cost-effective alternative to in-person doctor visits.
A Note from Dr. Berkowitz
Early Numbers Suggest Flu Season Will Be Worse This Year. Telehealth Can Help.
The 2019 – 2020 flu season is shaping up to be more severe than last year, but for those who do contract the virus, virtual visits represent a treatment option that eases the burden by being available quickly and easily.
According to MDLIVE’s proprietary data, we have seen the start of U.S. flu activity (as measured by the percentage of overall visits) since around mid-July. The U.S. flu activity progression mirrors what the data in Australia has shown and indicates that U.S. flu trends lag Australia’s by between four and five months.
Our models predict that peak flu season will hit the U.S. in November and December.
Flu by the numbers
The 2017 – 2018 flu season, the most recent season for which detailed statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are available, was characterized by high severity with unusually high levels of outpatient flu-like illness, hospitalizations rates, and influenza-associated deaths. An estimated 48.8 million people became sick with influenza, 22.7 million saw a healthcare provider, 959,000 were hospitalized, and 79,400 Americans died from the virus.
The Flu can clearly affect many people, and have devastating effects in some, especially those who are a higher risk (as defined below)>
Who is most at-risk for the Flu?
While it’s recommended (and encouraged by MDLIVE!) for everyone older than 6 months to obtain flu vaccination, the reality is that many don’t and, regardless, it isn’t foolproof. While recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60%, that statistic comes with an important caveat – the numbers are only that high during seasons when most available flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.
That means those at higher risk from the Flu need always to be more careful. Major risk factors include:
- – All children under the age of 5
- – All people aged older than 50 years
- – Adults and children who have chronic pulmonary, renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic, or metabolic disorders
- – Women who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season
- – Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- – People who are extremely obese
What to do if you get the Flu
Members of the at-risk populations above should consult a physician immediately upon developing flu symptoms, which include: fever, cough, sore throat, muscle and body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Antiviral drugs that fight the flu virus in the body may be an option for those who develop the Flu if started within 48 hours of developing the first symptoms. See home treatments, below.