2012-2013 Could Be Bad Flu Season, Not Too Late to Get Vaccine, CDC Advises

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Significant increases in influenza activity in the U.S. during the past 2 weeks indicate that this year's flu season has come early, and it could be a bad one, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). December 2-8 is National Influenza Vaccination Week, and it's not too late to get yours.

The CDC estimates that 5% to 20% of the U.S. population gets influenza each year, leading to more than 200,000 hospitalizations due to related complications. Flu seasons are unpredictable, however, and flu-related deaths can range from a low of about 3000 to a high of about 49,000.

This year, the agency has collected reports of more cases than usual by the end of November, suggesting an unusually active season may be underway. According to a December 3 CDC media briefing, numbers of flu cases have recently risen in several states in the south. Furthermore, this year's circulating strains seems to cause more severe illness than usual, especially for elderly people.

"It looks like it's shaping up to be a bad flu season, but only time will tell," said CDC director Thomas Frieden.

 

Fortunately, this year's vaccine formulation appears to be a good match for circulating strains seen so far, and more than one-third of Americans have already been vaccinated, he added.

 

As previously reported, in August the CDC issued revised flu vaccine guidelines, keeping in place the recommendation that all people age 6 months and older should receive a vaccine for the forthcoming season.

 

While anyone can get influenza, some groups are at higher risk for serious flu-related complications, including children younger than 5 years old, pregnant women, people with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease, and people age 65 years or older. People in these groups -- as well as their caretakers -- are especially urged to get vaccinated.

Public health officials ideally recommend vaccination before flu season gets underway, to allow time for the body to produce protective antibody levels. But the CDC stressed this week that it is not too late for vaccination, and getting the vaccine now will offer protection during the worst of the season.

National Influenza Vaccination Weekis intended to raise awareness of the need for vaccination and encourage more people to take advantage of it. The flu vaccine is available for a cost of around $30 out of pocket and can be administered by a pharmacist without a prescription. Most insurance plans cover vaccination. Many employers, drug stores, public health clinics, and others offer free or low-cost vaccines at the start of the flu season.

"Flu season typically peaks in February and can last as late as May," said Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General and Director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "We are encouraging people who have not yet been vaccinated to get vaccinated now."

People of all ages above 6 months can receive the trivalent inactivated flu vaccine, given as an intramuscular injection. Children age 6 months to 8 years who are getting vaccinated for the first time need 2 doses to be fully protected. A new intradermal flu shot is approved for adults age 18 to 64, and a high-dose vaccine is available for people aged 65 and older, who may have more difficulty producing antibodies. Healthy people age 2 to 49 years may alternatively receive a live-attenuated flu vaccine given by intranasal administration. People with compromised immunity -- including HIV positive people -- pregnant women, and older adults should not receive the live vaccine.

"Getting the flu vaccine is simple, and it’s the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your family from the flu," Schuchat emphasized.

Flu information from the CDC is available at www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.

Use the Flu Vaccine Finder to find local vaccine providers: http://flushot.healthmap.org.

12/4/12

 

Sources

 

CDC. It’s not too late to vaccinate -- Get your flu vaccine today! Public service announcement. November 2012.

 

CDC. What You Should Know for the 2012-2013 Influenza Season. Questions and Answers. June 2012.