Flu Season Starting to Ramp Up in the South
Whether you have caught the flu yet this season might depend on where you live.
Flu levels are already climbing throughout the South, particularly in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, and Puerto Rico, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As for the rest of the country, things are relatively quiet -- so far.
Regardless of what region of the country you reside in, vaccination is still a good idea.
"If you haven't been vaccinated, you need to go ahead and do that because vaccine is the best way to protect against influenza," said Lynnette Brammer, the leader of CDC's domestic influenza surveillance team.
As for folks in the South, Brammer noted that the strain of flu that is showing up there is a bit odd.
"It's really a little bit unusual in the fact that some regions are having influenza B wave early," she said. "It's been a long time since we've had a B-predominant season."
The last flu season when B strains predominated was in 1992-1993, Brammer said.
Meanwhile, the rest of the country is seeing a mix of flu strains, including the influenza A strains H1N1 and H3N2, she said.
In most years, influenza A strains are seen first, followed by B strains, Brammer said. Last year was a little unusual, too, with a wave of influenza A H1N1 followed by a wave of H3N2, followed by a small wave of B strains.
Not only is there a mix of flu strains circulating, but different strains are affecting different age groups, Brammer said.
Among school-aged children, influenza B is the most common strain. Among adults 65 and older, nearly 75% of the viruses are H3N2. For other adults, flu is equally divided between H1N1 and H3N2 strains, Brammer said.
She added that flu is unpredictable and an explanation for why different strains are affecting different groups is just another example of flu's unpredictability.
Every flu season, hundreds of thousands of adults are hospitalized for flu and as many as 50,000 die from complications like pneumonia.
The CDC doesn't keep track of how many adults die from flu but, so far this year, three children have died from flu-related complications.
Brammer said that this year's vaccine is a good match for both the A and B strains that are circulating.
The CDC recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older get a flu shot.
Brammer said that some people think the vaccine isn't very effective, so they skip getting it. But even if the vaccine isn't as effective as the CDC would like, it still protects millions from getting the flu.
Also, even if you get sick, the vaccine makes your illness less severe. "Vaccine effectiveness isn't always what we would like, but flu vaccine can reduce your risk of hospitalization 40%, and for healthy kids, it can reduce their chance of dying by 65%," she noted.
Plenty of vaccine is available, Brammer said. So far, about 162 million doses have been distributed.
For kids and some adults who don't like shots, a nasal spray vaccine is available.
It's particularly important for people who have chronic heart or breathing conditions to get vaccinated because the flu can make these conditions worse.
Pregnant women should also get their shot to protect themselves and their baby, the CDC recommends.
"Even if you're not high risk, getting vaccinated helps protect people that are high risk," Brammer said.
If you do get the flu, antiviral medications are available that work against the viruses currently circulating.
For more on flu, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCE: Lynnette Brammer, M.P.H., leader, domestic influenza surveillance team, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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