Atypical flu season hits young-to-middle-aged adults

Steena Hymes Staff Writer

January 15, 2014

As flu season reaches its height, new reports from the Center for Disease Contol and the Department of Public Health show that young adults and middle aged adults are getting hit harder than usual. Though the flu does not discriminate, this is atypical for the flu to affect these particular age groups as children and the elderly are generally the at-risk demographic.

Spokesperson for the Department of Public Health, Nancy Nydam said the unpredictability of the flu makes in difficult to determine why young adults and middle aged adults are the targets of this season’s flu. According to Nydam, there have been 19 deaths statewide, only one of which was a pediatric patient. The rest were all people under the age of 65.

There may be a link between the H1N1 virus that surfaced in 2009 and this year’s flu season. Dr. Jamila Jones of the CDC said that adults between the ages of 19 and 24 were hit particularly hard by the 2009 H1N1 virus. Furthermore, H1N1 continues to be the predominant virus this season and is expected to continue circulating during the 2014 flu season, along with other influenza viruses according to Jones.

Dr. Michael Brackett from Emory Clark-Holder Clinic, specializes in family medicine and said this is not uncommon with H1N1 since it is a pandemic flu. Brackett said a hallmark of a pandemic flu such as H1N1 is that it hits the middle demographic ages, whereas seasonal flu tends to target infants and the elderly.

“This is no surprise with H1N1. When it started coming through, it was very predictable,” Brackett said.

Brackett said he has seen patients of all ages getting sick but has seen an increase of young adults with severe complications such as post-viral pneumonia.

“Some of the young healthy people have a severe case called ADRS which is related directly to the virus, in other words, its a flu super pneumonia,” he said.

Brackett has seen three to four cases a week compared to usually only seeing a case every two to three weeks.

Symptoms for healthy young to middle aged adults may take 10 days to two weeks before symptoms get complicated according to Brackett.

Another issue with H1N1 is that its genetic shift is dramatic so each year the virus looks different, making it hard for the body to fight it off.

“Nobody has seen this before, so almost everyone is vulnerable,” Brackett said.

However, vaccinations for H1N1 have helped fight off the virus.

Jones said vaccination is important for young adults with certain long-term medical conditions because they are a high risk for serious illness if they get the flu.

Unfortunately, young people are less likely to get vaccinated. According to Jones, early season estimates from mid-November report that only 31 percent of adults in the 18-49 age range had gotten vaccinated which is nearly 10 percent points lower than the national average.

Brackett said the increase of young people getting sick has more to do with not getting vaccinated. There are social factors too.

“Young people tend to go out more, they’re more gregarious so they tend to spread it around more,” he said.

It is not too late for vaccinations and it is the best way to deter the flu. In addition to vaccination, Brackett stressed the importance of washing hands regularly. He also advised staying out of large crowds, staying home from work or school if sick and seeing a doctor at the start of any flu like symptoms.