Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Flu unpredictable but preventable

Posted on Jan. 31, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

Total flu deaths for 2012-13 held at 43 this week, the Indiana State Department of Health reported Wednesday.

After a long and deadly winter, that’s good news. Because for a while, it looked as if influenza would keep killing Hoosiers at a steady pace.

We need to remember this body count next fall.

During the 2011-12 flu season, the death toll reached three. The year before that, influenza took the lives of 25 Hoosiers.

Health agencies track flu deaths from Oct. 1 to May. So we’re not finished counting.

But the numbers reflect an epidemic. So far, Indiana flu deaths have increased by more than 1,300 percent over last season and 72 percent over 2010-11.

Influenza killed mostly among two groups this winter, the state reported — the elderly and those with heart disease, asthma, diabetes and other chronic health conditions. State and local health officials started reaching out to long-term care centers two weeks ago, trying to curb the epidemic.

It’s too early to say if that initiative helped keep deaths at 43 last week. The flu is unpredictable.

Yet if the flu is rampaging through the state’s assisted care centers, we need to begin planning now to prevent another epidemic this fall. Vaccinations reduce the spread of influenza; families need to act on behalf of their loved ones and nursing homes may, in some cases, need to review their preventative care programs.

The one thing that’s clear is this — if we can take steps to prevent another flu epidemic like this one, we should. We must not allow another preventable death, either this winter or next.