By Robert Nelson, MD
Despite its own admission that Flu Vaccine is, at best, only 40 – 60% effective at reducing risk of Flu-like illness, the CDC repeatedly lists receiving the Flu vaccine as “step one” in prevention. This recommendation also acknowledges the caveat that the effectiveness of immunization will be less if the vaccine is not well matched to the dominate circulating strains of Influenza in any given Flu season. Yet Medicare has deemed it so important that they cover it at 100% despite its low cost and not-so-stellar prevention record.
Given that the mode of transmission of Flu is mainly person-to-person contact, it should not be a surprise that the next bit of preventive coaching that the CDC offers to patients with suspected Flu (and probably the most important admonition) is to STAY HOME.
This advice to “stay home” is very important to curb the spread of the Flu, because it is quickly passed by large-droplet particles that result from coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. The range of these briefly airborne particles is about 6 feet. But once they land on a surface, these virus laden particles can remain infectious for many hours. Considering the short incubation phase of about 2 days, Flu can spread exponentially if a short time.
With these facts in mind, does a typical crowded waiting room in an urgent care facility or doctor’s office during Flu season make any sense at all? Those who have been tracking this know that the number of patient encounters this year for Flu-like illnesses is off-the-charts high.