About 80,000 Americans died of the flu and its complications last season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was the highest number of fatalities in four decades.
The toll surprised even experts, at about twice what they usually would consider a bad year.
Recent years have seen the total range from as low as 12,000 to 56,000. Even that is too large a toll, considering the availability of flu vaccines and the low cost of getting it — for many people it costs nothing.
Texas also was hit hard — and our region’s rate of flu-related deaths outpaced that seen statewide.
The Northeast Texas Public Health District in Tyler told us earlier this year that while the mortality rate state was 14.14 deaths per 100,000 people, it was 20.53 in our region.
Several factors could have contributed to last year’s high numbers. One prevalent strain of flu was especially strong, and resistant to the vaccine that was issued.
But the high number also coincides with the growing trend against vaccinations in general. Too many people still are being influenced to forgo vaccinations by celebrities spreading misinformation based on junk science.
That is leading to growing public health issues and deaths. The overall risk to the community grows with the number of people who fail to be inoculated against any disease, including the flu, health officials say. With more infected people comes more risk of infection to all of us.
It may seem early, but flu season is getting started and most doctors offices and pharmacies already are offering flu shots. Everyone 6 months and older is encouraged to get the vaccination unless they have certain other health issues.
Most health insurance policies cover flu shots completely, so vaccination usually is free.
As it announced last year’s shocking toll late last month, the CDC noted it takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body to develop adequate protection against the disease, so the sooner you are vaccinated the better.
The flu bug changes from year to year and drug companies, using guidelines set by the federal Food and Drug Administration, change the vaccine every year to address those changes. Fortunately, officials say the most common flu strain this year is not as severe as the 2017 strain.
No vaccine offers 100 percent protection against all flu strains, but a vaccinated person who catches the bug anyway likely will have lighter symptoms, the CDC said.
If you have not, please get vaccinated for the flu. If your workplace sets up a vaccination clinic, take advantage of it. If not, get to your pharmacy or doctors office to receive it. Do it for yourself and for better public health.