CDC Says Flu Season Starting Early

Health officials say flu season is off to its earliest start in nearly a decade. Available vaccines seem to be well-matched to the strains of flu being found so far.

 

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say suspected flu cases have jumped in Texas and four other southern states. The center's director, Dr. Thomas Friedan, says more than a third of Americans have been vaccinated, but he's encouraging everyone to get their flu shot.

"This year's strains look to be a great match with this year's vaccine, and it's time to get vaccinated, if you haven't been already vaccinated. The early nature of the cases, as well as the specific strains we're seeing, suggest this could be a bad flu year."

The CDC's Tom Skinner says the primary strain circulating is one that tends to cause more severe illness, especially in the elderly.

"The sub-type that we're seeing in most of the people with flu this year is the same sub-type as 2003/2004, and it's a sub-type called H3N2, that's generally associated with more severe flu seasons." 

The uptick in flu reports usually doesn't occur until after Christmas. Dr. Melinda Warden is the acting director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

"Often influenza actually peaks after the New Year, in January, February or even later. And last year we had, of course, a very late season. The point Dr. Friedan made earlier, that excluding the pandemic, this is the earliest year since 2003 I think is the point I would make." 

Dr. Friedan says influenza is serious, and causes thousands of deaths each year. But he says vaccination is by far the best tool for protecting against flu, and available vaccines are well-matched to the strains of flu being found so far.

"About 90 percent are very well-matched with this year's flu vaccine. That means that we did about as good as we could have done to put the right three strains of flu into the flu vaccines that are available on the market."

Work sites and pharmacies account for about a third of vaccinations for adults.

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Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...