It’s the first week of January and winter seems to have finally arrived with a vengeance. In addition to the cold and snow, many older adults are also fighting this year’s flu.
The CDC reports the virus is widespread in 43 states — from New England to the Pacific Northwest. The flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications with older adults and those with respiratory problems at especially high risk.
Some 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu each year. More than 200,000 are hospitalized from its complications.
By the first day of 2015, CDC’s influenza surveillance systems were showing “elevated” activity, including increasing hospitalizations rates in people 65 years and older. CBS Atlanta reported that “flu-related hospitalizations for the elderly have doubled from this time last year” across the country. Media outlets report increased flu-related deaths among local elderly in recent days. Continue reading
In the United States, far too many people – including many older adults – don’t get the vaccines they need to prevent getting and spreading preventable diseases. In a recent CDC press release, Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H, says many people think “that infectious diseases are over in the industrialized world.”
However, global travel and trade can spread diseases quickly, leaving seniors vulnerable to infection. Here, Eileen Beal discusses the risks of not being vaccinated and the reasons seniors aren’t getting vaccinations, and also provides resources for people looking for more information on vaccines.
Maryn McKenna, AHCJ board member and self-proclaimed “most vaccinated person on the planet,” writes about her own bout with whooping cough. She’d had her shots back in the day, but apparently whooping cough immunity conferred by childhood vaccines fades, and anyone over the age of 12 probably needs a booster. This is relevant because, while whooping cough is not generally fatal to adults, it’s easily transmitted to more vulnerable folks. And in California and across the country, it’s on the march and vaccine supplies are limited.
The worst news in this upsetting trend is this: We’re doing it to ourselves. As far as anyone can tell, the rise in pertussis is not due to any change in the organism, or to any mysterious error among the manufacturers who make pertussis vaccines. It’s due to vaccine refusal, to parents turning away from vaccines because they think the vaccines are more harmful than the diseases they prevent — or, more selfishly, because they think the wall of immunity created by other vaccinated children will protect their unimmunized ones.
That wall of immunity, McKenna says, hasn’t been helping the unvaccinated kids, who are 23 times more likely to pick up the disease than their immunized peers.
The Texas Tribune’s Ben Freed learns, through conversations with public health experts, that the “entirely preventable” disease can be stopped with vaccination rates between 80 percent and 85 percent. Unfortunately, adult rates are nowhere close to those numbers, though the state is taking steps to increase adult vaccinations.
California officials are urging people to get vaccinated as that state has now seen a six-fold increase in whooping cough this year.
Bloomberg’s Phil Serafino and Yuriy Humber reported on Bill and Melinda Gates’ pledge to commit $10 billion of their foundation’s resources over the coming decade to developing vaccines for the world’s poorest countries. It will come in addition to the $4.5 billion the foundation has already committed to vaccine research and delivery. Gates called on governments and other organizations to join the effort, using a Johns Hopkins model to predict significant impacts.
By vaccinating 90 percent of the population in developing countries, the deaths of about 7.6 million children under the age of 5 could be prevented in the next decade, according to the Gates foundation. An additional 1.1 million lives would be saved by the introduction of a malaria vaccine beginning in 2014, the foundation said.
That malaria vaccination, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, is expected to be ready for patent by 2012.
As part of a string of interviews that accompanied the release of Gates’ annual foundation letter, the heavyweight philanthropist told CNET’s Ina Fried that he has been surprised to find that vaccine distribution has turned out to be every bit as challenging as vaccine development. He also discussed his wide-ranging foundation-related travels and initiatives.
USA Today‘s Liz Szabo writes about experts’ fears that unvaccinated children will lead to outbreaks of some infectious diseases.
Experts say that parents may be reducing children’s “herd immunity” – keeping germs out of circulation by vaccinating kids. As an example, Szabo tells the story of one child who has a rare immune deficiency and developed meningitis.
Thanks to the success of vaccines, few parents today know anyone who has become sick with a serious contagious disease, says William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Instead, parents are often concerned about chronic illnesses, such as asthma, allergies or autism, which don’t have a clear cause.
Szabo cites statistics from The New England Journal of Medicine that show the number of children who are exempt from immunization requirements has gone up 50 percent from 1991 to 2004.