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My Flu-less Winter

Posted by Dr. Suzanne Koven  March 7, 2012 07:34 AM

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snow-covered-daffodil-flowers.jpgThe green tips of spring bulbs are popping up all over Boston and I've yet to see a case of influenza. No high fevers, no head-to-toe body aches, no urgent trips from office to emergency room with a previously healthy person suddenly gasping for breath. This is good, right?

Well, of course it's good. The flu is miserable and--especially for pregnant women, the very young, the very old, and people with compromised immune systems--dangerous.

But the almost eerie absence of flu this year in my practice causes some anxiety along with relief. Here's why:

There may be more flu yet to come. A mild winter has reduced the usual severity of the annual flu epidemic, but it has also delayed it. If you click "previous" to view the series of maps of flu incidence from the Centers For Disease Control, you'll see that the incidence is still on the rise.

A mild flu season may be yet another sign of global warming. As this New York Times article explains, flu thrives and spreads best in cold, dry weather. What may be bad news for the flu virus may be bad news for us, too.

It may be difficult to convince people to be vaccinated next year. As I wrote in this blog last fall, vaccination rates, even among health care workers, are not as high as they could be and, in a usual year, thousands still die or are incapacitated by the flu. With so few cases (so far) this year, the unconvinced will be even harder to convince next year.

That, along with more seasonably cold weather, could make next year particularly bad flu-wise.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Suzanne Koven, M.D. practices internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She writes a monthly column for the Globe's G Health section and her essays have appeared in the More »


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