Awareness should continue as the 2013-14 season winds down
On February 20, 2014, we celebrated the 125th anniversary of public health in Florida. At the end of the 19th century, a yellow fever epidemic swept through North Florida. In response to that threat, Florida’s 15th Governor Francis Fleming, along with the Florida Medical Association worked with the Florida legislature to create the State Board of Health, which was renamed the Florida Department of Health in 1889. Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne illness no longer seen in the U.S. due in large part to the efforts of public health. The last known outbreak of yellow fever occurred in 1905. Although yellow fever no longer poses a threat, public health continues to address a number of communicable diseases including influenza.
As the 2013-14 flu season winds down, it is a good time to review its impact this year. Influenza is not a reportable illness (except for pediatric mortality), but surveillance systems such as the sentinel physician program provide some indication of the level of activity. Overall, the season has been mild with lower activity in Florida and in Polk County than the 2012-13 season. Although it is too early to say for certain, it appears that the influenza season has peaked. This season has had an increased toll on the young and middle-aged population. According to the CDC, persons between the ages of 18-64 years accounted for 60 percent of all influenza-related hospitalizations. In addition, 22 percent of the reported influenza-related hospitalizations among women of child-bearing age have occurred in pregnant women. Again, thanks to the diligence of participating sentinel physicians, influenza A pH1N1 has been identified as the predominant strain, which is the first time since the 2009 pandemic.
This flu season illustrates the importance of annual seasonal influenza vaccinations. This year’s flu vaccine was a good match for the circulating strains and includes the 2009 H1N1 strain. Interim results show that vaccination reduced the risk for influenza-associated medical visits by approximately 60 percent. Unfortunately, in those that were the most heavily impacted, namely persons 18-64 years of age, less than one in three received the vaccine. It is recommended that vaccination efforts continue as long as influenza viruses are circulating. Anyone older than six months who has not yet received the 2013-14 influenza vaccine should still be vaccinated. Vaccines are available at doctor’s offices, hospitals, pharmacies, and the health department. The Florida Department of Health in Polk County will continue to offer influenza vaccines through April.
by Dr. ULYEE CHOE
About the Author: Dr. Ulyee Choe, an infectious disease physician, serves the community as director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County (FDOH-Polk) and as a Polk County Medical Association member. For more information about FDOH-Polk, visit www.mypolkhealth.net.