CDC: Flu season far from over

CDC: Flu season far from over

It’s not the worst flu season in the past decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared during a press conference Friday morning. But it’s pretty close and it’s far from over.

 “We are currently in the midst of a very active flu season with much of the country experiencing widespread and intense flu activity,” CDC director Brenda Fitzgerald shared with reporters. “So far this season, influenza A-H3N2 has been the most common form of influenza. These viruses are often linked to more severe illness, especially among children and people age 65 and older. When H3 viruses are predominant, we tend to have a worse flu season with more hospitalizations and more death. While our surveillance systems show that nationally, the flu season may be peaking now, we know from past experience that it will take many more weeks for flu activity to truly slow down.”

The CDC is highly recommending people get their flu shot despite any public consternation that this year’s flu shot isn’t a good defense against this year’s virus. The vaccine effectiveness against the predominant H3N2 strain has been reported in the low 30 percentile range.

“We also continue to recommend the flu vaccine. While our flu vaccines are far from perfect, they are the best way to prevent getting sick from the flu and it is not too late to get one,” Fitzgerald said. “As of this last month, manufacturers reported they shipped more than 151 million doses of flu vaccine, so it should be readily available.”

“This is the first year that we’ve had the entire continental U.S. be the same color on the graph, meaning that there is widespread activity in all of the continental U.S. at this point,” added Dan Jernigan, director of the Influenza Division of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “The season has started early and is probably peaking right about now,” he said. “It’s looking a lot like the activity from 2014/2015 and 2012/2013. Both of those seasons were seasons where the strain H3N2 was the predominant strain. That’s a strain that is going to be associated with more cases, more hospitalizations and death. In terms of the numbers, we are having a slight increase this week. We’re up at 5.8% [of all patient visits attributed to the flu], which is a slight increase from last week. It’s not quite as high as the 6% that was seen in 2014/2015, but still early season peaking now.”

Over the last 13 years, there have only been two seasons where the CDC has characterized the flu season as “high severity.” The first was 2003/2004. The other was 2014/2015.

“Both of those were H3N2 predominant years. Whether we will reach that level this year we don’t know,” Jernigan said. “If you look at the timing of the season, even if we have hit the top of the curve or the peak of seasonal activity, it still means we have a lot more flu to go. We’re currently in the seventh [week] right now, and in the past, if you look at seasons like the one we’re having, there’s at least 11 to 13 more weeks of influenza to go. In addition, there are also other strains of influenza that are still to be a major cause of disease. [For example], B viruses will be showing later in the season, [which is] another reason why to go ahead and get vaccinated now if you have not gotten vaccinated.”

January 12, 2018

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