With just a few days before reaching its peak in January, the first wave of flu season has led widespread infection rates to increase from four states to ten states last week, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday.
This flu season, there have been four pediatric flu deaths reported since Sept. 29. On Thursday, the Houston Health Department confirmed its first pediatric flu death this season, identifying the victim to be a teenager infected with the predominant flu strain, H1N1. Last year, 381,000 people were hospitalized and 169 children died in what was considered to be a relatively severe season. The exact number of flu-related adult deaths is hard to track and varies from year to year since the CDC does not provide these statistics, but some states do keep track. Compared to last year, officials are not seeing the flu season as severe or widespread as 2012 but still believe the widespread infections are significant. The severity of this flu season will be contingent on the season itself and on the virus.
Previously, Alabama, Louisiana, New York, and Texas, were among the first four states to report widespread geographic influenza activity. A state that is identified as “widespread,” refers to the outbreaks of influenza or increases in influenza-like cases and recent laboratory-confirmed influenza in at least half of the geographic regions in a state. The CDC’s widespread categorization aims to address the spread of the flu but not its severity.
Three weeks ago, the proportion of people seeing their health care provider for flu-like illness increased above the national baseline for the third consecutive week, a CDC weekly flu summary confirms. Now, the latest summary reveals Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas have a significantly high proportion of outpatient visits to health care providers to treat flu-like symptoms.
Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer in the CDC's flu division believes “it’s a typical influenza season” with the only atypical thing this year being that H1N1 is the most common strain in these reported cases. "It's the same virus that we saw in 2009 that caused the pandemic," Jhung told CNN.” At the time, it was called swine flu, since it was seen for the first time in humans.”
The H1N1 virus was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. The virus began to spread from person-to-person in the same fashion that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread. Laboratory testing at the time of the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic showed that many of the genes in the virus were very similar to influenza viruses that typically occur in pigs in North America, which led to the virus being known as swine flu. Scientists call H1N1 a “quadruple reassortant” due to the two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia, and bird (avian) and human genes.
The flu vaccine contains the H1N1 strain that has become so common in this flu season’s widespread infection rates in the United States. Two versions of the vaccine available are trivalent and quadrivalent. According to Flu.Gov, trivalent vaccines protect against 3 strains of the flu: A(H3N2), A(H1N1), and influenza B. This flu shot is available for anyone six months and older. Unlike trivalent vaccines, quadrivalent vaccines protect against four strains of the flu: A(H3N2), A(H1N1), and two strains of influenza B. The quadrivalent vaccines are available in its traditional form to those six months and older, and as a nasal spray for healthy people from ages 2 to 49, except pregnant women.
Antibodies take approximately two weeks to develop after vaccination to provide protection against the flu. Patients who get the flu shot are still at risk for getting the flu and are therefore cautioned to be vaccinated early in the fall before flu season reaches its peak. Despite the small chance, the flu vaccine was said to prevent 6.6 million illnesses last year, 3.2 million doctor visits, and at least 79,000 hospitalizations, the CDC reports.
Health officials nationwide are urging people to get the flu vaccine to protect themselves and their families from this year’s flu season. A high fever, achiness, chills, and upper respiratory symptoms such as a cough, a runny nose, and headaches are flu-like symptoms that warrant immediate attention from a health care provider, says the Mayo Clinic.
To learn more on how you can protect you and your family from the flu this season, click here.