This year’s flu season has been uncharacteristically tough on young and middle-aged adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In the last three seasons, about one-third of people hospitalized for influenza were ages 18 to 64. This season, they have accounted for 61 percent of flu-related hospitalizations.
A similar trend is being seen in deaths. Three flu seasons ago (2010–2011), 18 percent of all flu deaths occurred among people ages 25 to 64. The season after that: 30 percent. But the 2013–2014 season has seen about 60 percent of flu deaths occurring in this age group.
“Younger people may feel that influenza is not a threat to them, but this season underscores that flu can be a serious disease for anyone,” said Tom Frieden, MD, director of CDC.
One reason may be the re-emergence of the virus subtype H1N1, which hasn’t been the predominant virus since the flu pandemic in 2009. People ages 50 to 64 were hit hard that year, according to CDC. The theory at the time was that people 65 and older carried some protective immunity because of past infections with related viruses.
A second reason: Adults 18 to 64 are less likely than other age groups to get flu vaccinations. Just under 34 percent of those 18 to 64 sought vaccinations this season, according to CDC. That compares to about 41 percent of people ages 6 months to 17 years old and nearly 62 percent of people 65 and older.
Reports from physicians’ offices and clinics found that those who were vaccinated against the flu this season were 60 percent less likely to have to see their doctor for flu illness than people who didn’t get shots.
“It’s important that everyone get vaccinated,” said Dr. Frieden.
Flu activity is likely to continue for a number of weeks, according to CDC.