Influenza has reached epidemic proportions in the US reports CDC
On January 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that influenza has reached epidemic proportions in the US; 7.3% of deaths last week were caused by pneumonia and the flu. The CDC notes that this percentage is above the epidemic threshold of 7.2%. Nine of the 10 regions of the US have reported elevated flu activity; thus, confirming that seasonal flu has spread across the nation and has attained high levels several weeks before the usual time of late January or February. In addition, two more children have died this past week from flu-associated illnesses, bringing this season’s total to 20.
Only two states, California and Mississippi, do not report a widespread outbreak of the virus; Hawaii is at a lower rate than most of the US, with a level reported as sporadic. The CDC notes that the proportion of people visiting a healthcare provider for flu-like symptoms has risen from 2.8% to 5.6% in just four weeks––compared to the peak rate of 2.2% for the 2011 – 2012 season. According to the agency, the proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illnesses (ILI) this past week was at 4.3%, which is still above the national baseline of 2.2%. New York City and 24 states are experiencing high ILI activity, and 16 states are reporting moderate ILI activity.
The virus most responsible for the outbreak is a particular strain of type A influenza called H3N2. Fortunately, this year’s flu vaccine is very well matched to H3N2, which has been historically associated with more severe illness. However, unfortunately, many people have not been vaccinated. The CDC recommends that everyone who is over the age of 6 months should get a flu vaccine. The people most at risk for developing complications from the flu include people over the age of 65, pregnant women, and those with asthma, emphysema, and chronic lung disease. However, the majority of Americans do not get the flu shot each year, with only 46% receiving the vaccine by the end of March 2012. It should be noted that the success rates are fairly positive: flu shots were shown to be 67% effective in preventing the flu.
The CDC notes that if you have already been vaccinated this season, you have taken the most important step to protect yourself and those around you from flu. Unfortunately, there are a couple of reasons why it’s still possible to get the flu despite being vaccinated. First, people may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period it takes the body to develop an immune response following vaccination. Second, there’s a possibility of catching a different flu virus not included in the vaccine. Most of the viruses characterized by the CDC have been similar to the viruses in the vaccine; however, the flu vaccine is not likely to protect against other viruses. In addition, sometimes the flu vaccine doesn’t work as well for some people, which means that some people can get sick with the flu despite being vaccinated. The ability of flu vaccine to protect a person depends, in part, on the health and age of the person being vaccinated. In general, the flu vaccine works best among young healthy adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination.
In view of the aforementioned, it is important to know what else you can do to help keep you from getting sick, and what to do if you do get sick with flu:
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you or your child gets sick with a respiratory illness, like flu, limit contact with others as much as possible to help prevent spreading illness. Stay home (or keep your child home) for at least 24 hours after fever is gone except to seek medical care or for other necessities. Fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
- If an outbreak of flu or another illness occurs, follow public health advice. This may include information about how to increase distance between people and other measures.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. This will block the spread of droplets from your mouth or nose that could contain germs.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.