The deadly flu no one saw coming

That’s the headline of a weekend Wall Street Journal article that disturbed the FEHBlog. The article discusses two women who caught the flu last month and died. Both women were in the late 30s, were married with young children, and had health insurance. One of the women was a teacher and the other was an administrator. Their deaths shouldn’t have happened but they did.

Bloomberg reports that the flu and its big brother pneumonia currently are the cause of 1 in 10 deaths in America.

The death toll in future weeks is expected to grow even higher because flu activity is still rising—and the number of deaths follow the flu activity. Hospitalization rates are already approaching total numbers seen at the end of the flu season, which may not be for months.
“Unfortunately, more deaths are likely to happen,” [Centers for Disease Control acting director Anne] Schuchat said. “Over the next few weeks, we do expect and it would make sense to see more pneumonia and influenza-related deaths. The people who are likely to die are already in the hospital.”

In a sidebar, the Wall Street Journal discusses why this disease can be so deadly.

People over age 65, young children [particular those five and under], pregnant women and adults with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease or chronic lung disease are at high risk of serious complications. It is uncommon, but otherwise healthy people can develop them too.
Complications occur when the body’s immune system overreacts, triggering an exaggerated inflammatory response. Or flu infection can make it easier for bacteria to invade the bloodstream, causing a secondary infection. 

The article encourages people or caregivers in those categories to contact their doctor right away. Tamiflu, according to the article (and the FDA), can reduce flu symptoms particularly if taken within the first two days of getting sick.  The article also discusses when you need to head to the emergency room.

The bottom line is that people need to have a primary care provider in place before they get sick. Similarly, it’s important if you have a telemedicine service to register for that service before you need it. Even if you prepared as the two unfortunate women in the article mentioned at the outset were, tragic things can happen.

The Wall Street Journal also reports this morning that

As Americans suffer through the worst influenza outbreak in almost a decade, a Japanese drugmaker says it has developed a pill that can kill the virus within a day. But even if the experimental drug lives up to the claim, it likely won’t be available in the U.S. until next year at the earliest.
A late-stage trial on Japanese and American flu patients found that for the people who took the Shionogi 4507 -3.04% & Co. compound, the median time taken to wipe out the virus was 24 hours. That is much quicker than any other flu drug on the market, including Roche AG’s RHHBY -0.07% Tamiflu, which the trial showed took three times longer to achieve the same result. Quickly killing the virus could reduce its contagious effects, Shionogi said.
Also, Shionogi’s experimental drug requires only a single dose, while patients need to take two doses of Tamiflu a day, for five days.
Both Shionogi’s compound and Tamiflu take roughly the same amount of time to entirely contain flu symptoms, but Shionogi says its compound provides immediate relief faster.