By Brenda Flanagan
“Full of energy, full of life. The smile that radiated from her face, it just lit up the room,” said Gary Born.
Born grieves. His 40-year-old daughter Nicole died last Sunday — a victim of the virulent H3N2 flu strain, he says. The Voorhees mother of two had been active, healthy. Now as her parents prepare for their daughter’s funeral, they’ve got a message for everybody: get a flu shot.
“If you’re ill, if you’re sick, don’t wait. Don’t become a statistic like my daughter,” Born said.
“It’s not ‘just flu.’ Flu is a serious disease. Influenza as a virus can kill, and we’ve always known that,” said Dr. Susan Walsh.
Dr. Walsh oversees the community medical program at Jersey City Medical Center/Barnabas Health where staffers sat down for free flu shots today. Most claim they just couldn’t find time to go get vaccinated, before.
“I’ve been working the 3 to 11 shift so I haven’t had the time to come in during the day,” said Naomi Dagotdot.
Dagotdot says having free shots available in the cafeteria during lunch break definitely grabs people’s attention, but so do headlines about the current flu epidemic.
“Everybody’s getting sick, and I’m scared to be one of those people,” she said.
“The flu is now in New Jersey. It’s in higher levels in New Jersey. It does look like this is gonna be a serious flu season, compared to the last couple of years,” said Walsh. When asked what drives that, he/she said, “It’s really driven by exactly which flu is sort of floating through the area.”
The CDC says this year’s predominant flu virus — H3N2 — did mutate, so the flu shot’s not as effective as in prior years. And H3N2’s spreading fast: New Jersey reported 14 cases of the strain in the week ending Dec. 20 — 60 total. That jumped to 52 cases during the week ending Jan. 3 — totaling 190 cases. The state’s north and central areas show severe levels of flu activity. The south, moderate activity. The CDC’s Dr. Tom Frieden says H3N2’s sending more seniors over age 65 to the hospital than in regular flu seasons.
“H3N2 is a nastier virus than others, and years with H3N2 have more hospitalizations and, sadly, more deaths,” he said.
Frieden urged adults to get vaccinated against bacterial pneumonia — one of the flu complications Gary Born says led to Nicole’s death. The CDC today also advised health care providers to aggressively treat confirmed — and even suspected — flu cases with anti-viral flu medications like Tamiflu and Relenza.
“They work, but they aren’t being used nearly enough. They can reduce symptoms, shorten the duration of the illness. They could keep you out of the hospital and might even save your life,” said Frieden.
The shot doesn’t really hurt, although doctors say it could give you some mild flu symptoms like fever and fatigue. That’s nothing, compared to real flu.