WCAX first broke the news of the seriousness of the flu and the deaths of Vermonters on the Channel 3 News at 5 p.m. Thursday. Friday, the Health Department released more information about the three people who have died from the flu. All three were adults, two of them elderly, and all three had serious underlying medical conditions.
Bridget Barry Caswell has more on the situation and some of the myths surrounding the flu shot.
Kristin Kelly: Bridget, some people believe that the vaccine can actually give you the flu. Is that true?
Bridget Barry Caswell: No, it's not. I'm not a doctor, but doctors will unequivocally tell you that the flu shot cannot give you the flu. They say it may cause a low-grade fever, for instance in the first 24 hours-- not in everyone-- but it can happen. But that is not the flu.
Kristin Kelly: Now, in terms of effectiveness, is the vaccine perfect?
Bridget Barry Caswell: No. It covers three strains each season, and there are many others out there. This season's shot happens to cover the big one circulating right now, the H3N2 strain. But as doctors have said repeatedly, it is the best prevention we have.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Christopher Grace of Fletcher Allen Health Care says there's no reason not to get a flu shot.
"It's a complete no-brainer. The flu vaccine is effective and it's safe. I think that this date out there saying well, it's not that effective, it is. It's not perfect. It doesn't prevent all deaths. It doesn't prevent all illnesses, but it definitely reduces death rates," Grace said.
Bridget Barry Caswell: And if you were vaccinated and you do get the flu, Grace says your illness will most likely be less severe, perhaps a much lower fever than is typical, or you're sick for five days versus 7-10. My own vaccinated daughter just experienced that over the holidays. It happens.
Kristin Kelly: Bridget, last night doctors at Fletcher Allen said there is already a major crunch for beds because of the flu. It, and several other facilities in our region, were at full capacity Monday night. They're worried about the long term. Why?
Bridget Barry Caswell: Well, every year hospitals experience a few days of bed juggling because of influenza. The problem at Fletcher Allen is it is Vermont's only level one trauma center, providing the most advanced care in the state. Dr. Stephen Leffler of FAHC said this about the impact:
"We are taking up somewhere between 10 and 20 beds on a daily basis right now for patient that have the flu," Leffler said. "It's very difficult because our flu patients-- until we confirm they have the flu-- we have to either put them with another patient who has flu symptoms, or they get a single room. And most of our rooms are double-bed rooms, so it's keeping a lot of beds out of the normal flow that we'd be using for other patients."
Bridget Barry Caswell: Because it's an academic medical center with high-tech care, the hospital needs to have the capacity to accept transfers from other community hospitals around Vermont. In addition, a full hospital also means a lot of last-minute cancellations of elective procedures. Leffler says if the number of flu cases continues to climb for the next two to three months, that could pose big problems. The good news Friday is the CDC says the flu appears to have slowed in some parts of the nation. But it is still unclear whether the epidemic has peaked.