CDC Predicts Flu Season More Severe This Year
By Amanda Loomer // December 10, 2014
Flu season typically runs from October to May
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The flu season is ramping up in Florida, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is predicting that this season may be more severe than most.
Every flu season is different. For many, the seasonal flu is simply an unpleasant illness that lasts a week or so and then resolves, but for vulnerable and at risk populations, it can be deadly.
Serious complications can include bacterial pneumonia, worsening chronic conditions, such as asthma, COPD, and congestive heart failure, and even death.
The annual flu season typically runs from October to May, peaking anywhere from December to February.
The CDC and the Florida Department of Health collect and analyze data on influenza activity in the United States year round. This analysis includes the identity of flu virus strains circulating, the number of emergency room and office visits for diagnosis and treatment, hospitalizations, regional outbreaks, complications, deaths, etc.
In recent weeks the number of office visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) and flu in Florida have increased significantly in all age groups, but especially among those under age 19. Highest rates of infection have occurred in both daycare centers and senior living facilities.
How Can I Prevent the Flu?
Aside from frequent hand washing and avoiding those who are ill, the best way to protect yourself and those around you from the flu is to be vaccinated every year.
Yearly vaccination is necessary because the predominant strains of the virus that circulate among the population change from year to year, and therefore the vaccine must change also.
The trivalent seasonal flu vaccine includes two influenza A strains and one B strain.The quadrivalent vaccine contains the same three viral strains included in the trivalent vaccine, plus one B strain.
Throughout the year, researchers monitor the types and prevalence of circulating strains to predict those most likely to be of concern the following season. This approach provides the best estimate as to which strains will ultimately be included in the next season’s vaccine.
The 2014-2015 trivalent vaccine contains components to vaccinate for influenza A types H1N1 and H3N2, and influenza type B/Yamagata. The quadrivalent vaccine contains components to vaccinate for influenza B/Victoria as well. Both vaccines are available as an injection of inactivated virus, and also as a nasal spray that includes live attenuated, or weakened, virus.
The CDC recommends vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older, with few exceptions. The live vaccines, including the nasal spray, may only be used by children aged 2 and older and adults less than 50 years of age.
They should not be used by pregnant women, immune compromised individuals, and those who have been treated with influenza antiviral drugs within the past 48 hours.
The inactivated flu shot is indicated for adults and children 6 months of age or older who have no contraindications. It is available in both a regular strength and a high dose vaccine. The high dose vaccine for patients greater than or equal to 65 years of age provides a bigger stimulus for the immune system, which is weakened as we get older.
Why Is the Flu This Year Worse?
From the virus samples analyzed this year, we know that the most common strain circulating nationwide is influenza A type H3N2.
In past seasons, this strain has been associated with higher hospitalization rates and greater mortality, especially in patients who are older, very young, or who have other risk factors for severe illness.
Further analysis has also unfortunately shown that 52% of the H3N2 samples are different from the H3N2 strain included in the vaccine, meaning that it has mutated slightly, or “drifted.” This can cause the vaccine to be less effective against the strain of the virus.
In spite of this drift, the flu vaccine is still the strongest recommendation by the CDC. Though less effective at preventing infection with the H3N2 strain, vaccination can still reduce the severity of the illness. Protection against H1N1 and B strains are unchanged at this time.
Are There Medications For the Flu?
The CDC recommends treatment with antiviral medications, including Tamiflu® and Relenza®, as early as possible for patients with confirmed or suspected infections at higher risk for complications.
These include individuals who are less than 2 years old, greater than 65 years old, those with chronic diseases such as COPD, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and other chronic medical conditions, the immunocompromised, pregnant women, nursing home residents, and the morbidly obesity.
Both medications are available in adult and pediatric formulations.
These medications are most effective when administered within the first 48 hours of symptom onset. They can reduce the duration of illness by approximately one day, and can also be used to help prevent spread of the virus among family members and close contacts.
Recent data have suggested that medication may be more effective at preventing the spread of the virus than in treating it. In high risk or critically ill patients, however, treatment can be life saving.
What Do I Need To Remember?
First and foremost, get the flu vaccine. This remains the safest and most effective way to prevent influenza infection and spread.
If you are infected with or exposed to the virus, and at high risk for complications, seek treatment with Tamiflu® or Relenza®. Wash your hands frequently, cover your coughs and sneezes to protect others, and avoid those who are infected if at all possible.
For more information, please refer to the CDC website CLICK HERE.
Amanda Loomer is a Doctor of Pharmacy candidate graduating from the University of Florida College of Pharmacy in May of 2015. She has gained pharmacy experience in hospital and community internships across the central Florida area and with the Indian Health Services in Wellpinit, Washington. Amanda is currently on an Infectious Disease rotation at Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center.