The CDC is reporting that influenza activity continues to increase in the United States and most of the country is now observing high levels of influenza-like-illness (ILI). ILI reports are approaching levels that usually seen during moderately severe flu seasons. Of course, the CDC continues to recommend vaccinations for the flu, and antiviral treatment if appropriate.
According to Dr. Joe Bresee, Chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in CDC’s Influenza Division, “While we can’t say for certain how severe this season will be, we can say that a lot of people are getting sick with influenza and we are getting reports of severe illness and hospitalizations. Anyone who has not already been vaccinated should do so now. And it’s important to remember that people who have severe influenza illness, or who are at high risk of serious influenza-related complications, should get treated with influenza antiviral medications if they get flu symptoms regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated. Also, you don’t need to wait for a positive laboratory test to start taking antivirals.”
The CDC tracks influenza activity year-round and publishes a “flu report” weekly on Fridays. According to the most recent report, the proportion of people seeing their health care provider for ILI in the United States has risen for four consecutive weeks, climbing sharply from 2.8% to 5.6% during the past four weeks. Last season, which was considered relatively mild, ILI peaked at 2.2%. As a comparison, during 1998-1999 and 2003-2004, which were moderately severe seasons, ILI peaked at 7.6% during each season. During 2007-2008, which was also considered a moderately severe season, ILI peaked at 6.0%. During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, ILI peaked at 7.7%.
There have been 18 pediatric deaths, all preventable by vaccination, due to this year’s flu. Worse yet, the incidence of the flu is causing stress on ER’s, and some, like in Chicago, have begun to turn away patients who are presenting with the flu. According to the Illinois Department of Health, nearly 150 people have been admitted to intensive care units with the flu this season, and five have died.
One factor that may indicate increased severity this season is that the predominant circulating type of influenza virus is influenza A (H3N2) viruses, which account for about 76 percent of the viruses reported. Bresee explains “typically ‘H3N2 seasons’ have been more severe, with higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, but we will have to see how the season plays out.” So far this season, most (91%) of the influenza viruses that have been analyzed at CDC are like the viruses included in the 2012-2013 influenza vaccine. The match between the vaccine virus and circulating viruses is one factor that impacts how well the vaccine works.
Sadly, despite the dangers of getting the flu to children and at risk individuals (elderly, diabetics, and others), only 37% of Americans have been vaccinated against the flu. And those lame myths about the flu vaccine have been thoroughly debunked by real science over and over and over and over. But if you want to be a dumb ass and not get the flu vaccine, be my guest.
Vaccines Save Lives.