HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning people to get an influenza shot after a bad start to the flu season.
In a telephone press conference on Wednesday, experts said the H3N2 strain is the most commonly reported strain this flu season both in Colorado and across the country.
This flu season started earlier than normal and has been more severe than previous years. There have been more than 2,000 hospitalizations in Colorado this season alone, which is more than double the norm. Many of the patients are elderly.
There have also been 95 reported outbreaks in Colorado, which is four times higher than the average. An outbreak is defined as multiple flu cases reported in nursing homes or assisted living facilities.
One baby also died from the flu last week. Dr. Larry Wolk from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says that child was old enough to get the flu shot but had not been immunized.
It’s a tragedy Vira Cover knows all too well. Her toddler, Elizabeth, died in 2003 after contracting influenza. Elizabeth would have turned 16 on January 4. Instead, she’s a memory on her mother’s mantle.
“I do believe that Elizabeth would be here today if she had that flu shot,” Cover said. “I want people to know how important it is to get a flu shot. I believe that that is what can save lives especially with children because they are so vulnerable.”
Cover said her daughter was scheduled for a round of vaccines on December 22 but contracted influenza over Thanksgiving and died on December 1. Before that, Elizabeth was a healthy, happy baby.
“Suddenly she died in my arms, and there was nothing we could do,” Cover said.
Cover said she wished she would have trusted her gut and taken her daughter to the hospital. She says doctors told her not to bring her baby in until her fever reached 105 degrees.
“Listen when your instinct tells you that something is wrong. That is your child. You know your child best, so you go to the hospital, and you do absolutely everything you can to prevent a tragedy from happening,” Cover said.
These days, Cover is an advocate for vaccines. She encourages everyone to get a flu shot.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has activated its Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response to help deal with the flu season.
During the CDC telephone press conference, Dr. Wolk said Colorado is experiencing three shortages: hospital beds, anti-viral medications and IV fluids. Wolk described these shortages as spot shortages and not systematic across the state. Hospital beds were filling to their capacity in rural areas of western Colorado in particular.
Because of the shortages, Colorado issued a memorandum encouraging hospitals to work together, so they know where beds are available and which facilities are experiencing shortages.
Wolk said he is not confident that the flu season has peaked yet and believes it could get worse before the number of reported cases start going down.
He tried to reiterate to the public that a flu shot is the best defense against influenza and that anti-viral medications like Tamiflu should never be considered a substitute for the vaccine.
Along with the flu shot, the CDC encourages people to wash their hands frequently and stay home if you are sick.
The CDC says children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to influenza and should take proper precautions to protect themselves.