Flu cases elevated in U.S., CDC urges prevention

Jan. 8, 2015—As of late December, about half the U.S. was experiencing high rates of influenza (flu), along with elevated numbers of hospitalizations and deaths due to the illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This elevated rate of flu is not unusual—it happens every year. Nevertheless, it is a cause for concern, especially for people at high risk for complications from the flu, including children. As of Dec. 27, CDC surveillance indicated that flu was associated with the deaths of 21 children.

About influenza surveillance

Although flu season can stretch from October through May—with cases usually peaking in December through February—CDC gathers flu data all year. The data enables CDC to track flu virus activity throughout the country, including related hospitalizations and deaths.

According to CDC’s surveillance, the pattern for the 2014–2015 flu season has been typical, beginning with reports of increased influenza-related illness, followed by increases in hospitalizations, then increases in deaths linked to the illness. Over the past several weeks, rates of flu-like illness have risen to considerable levels, and as of Dec. 27, flu was considered widespread in more than 40 states. The surveillance also shows that hospitalization rates have been increasing, especially for people 65 years and older.

This season, influenza A (H3N2) virus has been prevalent. According to CDC, H3N2 is typically associated with more severe illness and deaths compared to other strains of the virus. As the 2014–2015 flu season continues, CDC anticipates a rise in both hospitalizations and deaths.
The take-home message

The flu vaccine provides the best protection from influenza. And since flu season can last through May, it’s not too late to protect yourself and your loved ones. Learn where flu shots are available in your area at www.flu.gov.

While some of this season’s flu viruses are different from what is in the vaccine, CDC states the shot can still offer protection—and might reduce severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death.

In addition to getting your flu shot, protect yourself by washing your hands frequently and avoiding sick people.

If you come down with the flu, protect others: Stay home from work or school. Also, ask your doctor about antiviral drugs. These prescription medicines can treat your illness and help prevent serious complications such as pneumonia.

Why you need to get the flu vaccine

Oct. 7, 2014—Less than half of the people in the United States protected themselves with a flu vaccine during the 2013–2014 flu season, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC strongly advises that people 6 months and older—with only rare exceptions—should get a yearly vaccine against the flu. Despite this advice, the report found only 46.2 percent of Americans in the recommended age group were vaccinated against the flu in the 2013–2014 flu season.

About the report

The report drew on data from random phone surveys in which 400,000 American adults were asked if they’d had a flu vaccine. Researchers then compared the current responses to past survey answers.

Among other things, they found that kids were better protected from the flu than adults. During the 2013–2014 flu season:

  • Almost 59 percent of kids nationwide got a flu vaccine—a rise of 2.3 percent over the previous season.
  • Only 42.2 percent of adults age 18 or older were vaccinated—an increase of 0.7 over the previous season.
  • The lowest rate of flu vaccination was among adults ages 18 to 49. Only 32.3 percent of them got the vaccine.

Read more about the report’s results here.

The take-home message
An annual flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu, which can cause serious complications such as pneumonia and can even be deadly. According to CDC, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized every year nationwide with flu complications.

Given that the flu can be quite serious, a yearly flu vaccine is in the best interest of almost everyone 6 months and older. To find out if you’re one of the rare people who shouldn’t be vaccinated—or if you should talk to your doctor before getting a vaccine—read these CDC recommendations here.

Among other things, the flu vaccine can protect you from missing work or school, from being hospitalized, and even from dying. In short, it’s dangerous to skip it.

Here are four things to keep in mind about the flu vaccine:

  1. It’s safe. It has very few side effects, and the most common ones are mild.
  2. It’s best to get vaccinated early. CDC says it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to provide complete protection. Those who get vaccinated before the flu hits their community will have a better chance of being protected.
  3. It won’t give you the flu. That’s a myth—and not a reason to skip the vaccine, CDC cautions
  4. Those who avoid the vaccine because they don’t like shots can ask their doctor about a nasal spray flu vaccine. This option is approved for healthy people ages 2 to 49, except for pregnant women. CDC recommends it for children ages 2 to 8 years when it’s available and notes that it may work better than the shot for younger children.

Want to know more? Here are some additional helpful questions and answers about the flu.