WASHINGTON — Health care providers have seen a rapid increase in flu-related illnesses in January, with both hospitalization and vaccination numbers going up, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts said Friday.
In a conference call, CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald and Dan Jernigan, influenza division director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said flu season began early this year, peaking last week with double the hospitalizations compared with last year.
“We are currently in the midst of a very active flu season with much of the country experiencing widespread and direct flu activity,” Fitzgerald said.
According to FluView, the CDC’s online viral surveillance system, this is the first year all 50 states present elevated rates of positive flu tests.
The predominant strain affecting the country is influenza A H3N2. A virus associated with more severe illnesses, H3 often means worse flu seasons with more hospitalizations and more deaths. There have been a total of 20 deaths flu associated pediatric deaths this season, seven of which occurred in the past week, Jernigan said.
With three more months to go in the active presence of the flu across the U.S, Jernigan said people should do more to seek prevention and treatment methods for the virus. So far, 151 million doses of flu vaccines have been shipped by manufacturers and should be readily available for consumer use, the officials said.
Jernigan added that lab data suggests vaccine effectiveness against predominant H3 viruses is around 30 percent, which reflects similar patterns to last year.
The second line of defense used to combat influenza is antiviral drug treatments, which may lessen the symptoms and shorten the duration of illness. These treatments are particularly effective in patients over the age of 65 and young children. Thel reported national supply of flu antiviral drugs should be sufficient to meet high seasonal demand.