Mirroring trends across the country, a severe flu season has descended on New Haven.
Yale New Haven Hospital has seen an unusually high number of flu patients this year, according to Richard Martinello, medical director of hospital epidemiology and infection control. He said that while flu season usually starts in mid-January, this year it began a few weeks earlier, leading to higher hospitalization rates in more severe cases.
“This is a challenging time due to the high number of patients, and right now every bed available is being used,” Martinello said. “But this is what we’re here for, and we are very well prepared to handle this.”
As the flu season drags on, the number of cases per week continues to increase. Martinello told the News last Friday that Yale New Haven Hospital alone has admitted well over 100 flu patients in the last 10 days alone.
On its website, the Yale School of Medicine keeps a record of the number of patients with the flu, gathered from Yale New Haven Hospital data as well as that of other hospitals and clinics in the region. In the week from Dec. 31 to Jan. 6 alone, the website logged 79 cases of Influenza A. Last year, only 26 Influenza A cases were logged over a comparable timespan.
Nationwide, this flu season is one of the worst in years, designated as “moderately severe” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Jan. 26, The New York Times reported that the 2017–18 flu season is on track to be the worst in nearly a decade, since 2009’s swine flu swept the nation. The CDC attributed the severity of the current flu season to an unusually severe strain of influenza, which has rendered the current flu vaccine less effective than usual.
Yale New Haven Hospital has required its employees to be vaccinated for the past two years, Martinello said. The staff at the hospital are committed to taking action to keep infection rates in the hospital as low as possible, he added. In order to do this, employees are asked to wear masks when interacting with flu patients.
Many in the health care community were aware that the current flu season would be particularly bad, Martinello said. Every year, the flu hits the Southern Hemisphere before the Northern one, giving health care professionals in the United States an early indication of how severe the American flu season will be. This year, he said, a report from Australia detailed both the severity of the season and the relative ineffectiveness of the vaccine in comparison to previous years. Newspapers picked up the story, with many reporting that the vaccine’s effectiveness stands at a mere 10 percent.
The CDC has not yet released an official estimate of the effectiveness of the flu vaccine in the United States, as the season has not ended. However, early estimates on the organization’s website suggest the “vaccine effectiveness” percentage will be lower than last year’s 39 percent.
But while the vaccine may be less effective than usual, medical professionals still recommend that people get vaccinated.
Paul Genecin, director of University health services, sent out a University-wide email on Jan. 23 encouraging members of the Yale community to get the vaccine and take basic hygienic measures to lower the risk of infection. He further cautioned that infected people should remain home to avoid spreading the disease even further.
Of seven students interviewed, around half said they had been vaccinated. Those who were not vaccinated said they chose not to get the vaccination because it was inconvenient or they did not have the time. Others, like Angela Jin ’19, got the vaccine at Yale Health, where it was provided at no cost to students.
“I got a flu shot because I want to be protected against this year’s flu, and it’s free and very efficient to get at Yale Health,” Jin said.
According to Genecin’s email, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions are at highest risk for flu-related complications. However, Martinello cautioned that otherwise-healthy individuals may still face complications if infected with the virus.
Referring to early data on the current flu season, Martinello said, “If anything, this does show that influenza is a bad disease that can lead to hospitalizations, pneumonia and potentially death — even for people who are young and otherwise healthy.”
Since October 2017, there have been nearly 12,000 confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations, according to the CDC.
Maya Chandra | firstname.lastname@example.org