There's good news and bad news this flu season

November 1, 2006

Heartfelt sympathies to any of you who at this moment are holding a fistful of soggy tissues and cough drops as you read.

Heartfelt sympathies to any of you who at this moment are holding a fistful of soggy tissues and cough drops as you read.

If you're already sick, you might have a harder time relieving your cold symptoms this year because over-the-counter pseudophedrine is still being kept somewhat out of reach.

Thanks to a rising number of criminals who use pseudophedrine to make illegal methamphetamine, we now have to sign in with a pharmacist to purchase our Sudafed to treat our stuffy noses. It's unfortunate because pharmacists have better things to do than weed out meth addicts.

MIGHTY FLU SHOTS

At least we can be encouraged by the fact that we will not have flu vaccine shortages this year. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), we're set for more than 110 million doses of the vaccine. In fact, we should have a record-breaking supply. And yes, the flu shot even comes in a nasal spray.

Because supply projections are robust, everyone who wants a flu shot should be able to get one, not just the typically targeted groups such as seniors and healthcare workers. That should be good news for payers who hope to see reduced hospitalizations during this flu season.

Employers, clinics and even faith-based organizations have done a good job of providing free flu shots to keep their people healthy and stop the spread of this annoying-and sometimes deadly-virus.

The American Medical Assn. (AMA) has made adult immunization and influenza one of its strategic initiatives and plans to improve vaccine delivery infrastructure, facilitate providers to immunize adult patients and address financing. I understand that AMA and the American Academy of Pediatrics plan to combine their immunization dialogue meetings because the traditionally separate concerns of adult and pediatric immunization are increasingly crossing over. There's common ground among them, especially as new vaccines enter the market that potentially benefit people of all ages.

A few weeks ago, researchers at Rochester Medical Center announced that they're starting trials of a new vaccine aimed at childhood ear and sinus infections and bronchitis in adults. Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) is a leading cause of ear and sinus infections and bronchitis, and one for which no vaccine exists.

These three health concerns are also the leading reason for antibiotic prescriptions in the United States. Antibiotic overuse leads to antibiotic resistance and more resilient viruses, so anything we can do to prevent that chain of events is worthwhile.

Anyone who is sniffling, coughing and chilled with a fever will tell you that preventing the cold and preventing the infection is a far better route than trying to treat it once you're miserable. While I doubt we'll wipe out cold and flu season entirely, powerful preventive measures are making it less of a headache.