As flu activity continues to increase in the United States, an update provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscores the growing severity of the situation.
“I wish there were better news this week,” Anne Schuchat MD, RADM, USPHS, the CDC’s acting director lamented. “But with flu activity continuing to go on the rise, we seem to be on track to break some recent records.”
The records she’s referring to have to do with the growing levels of influenza-like illness (ILI) and hospitalizations. ILI levels this season continuing to increase, but already, they’re “the highest we’ve seen since the pandemic in 2009
,” as Alicia Budd, MPH, epidemiologist in the Influenza Division of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases put it in yesterday’s Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity (COCA) webinar
“This doesn’t mean that we have a pandemic,” Dr. Schuchat stressed. “It’s a signal of how very intense this flu season has been.”
She added that overall hospitalization rates are now “significantly higher” than what we’ve seen at this point in the season in previous flu seasons. “Our pneumonia and influenza deaths are not very high compared with recent years, but more deaths are likely to happen. We do expect to see a lot more deaths.”
As for the severity of the flu season, “It’s just week 11, there could be several more weeks of flu,” Dr. Schuchat said. “It’s really the question of where will we be at the end of the year?”
The best form of protection against the virus? Vaccination.
“It’s important to remember that there are ways to prevent getting sick, and this can be crucial in a season like this one,” she said. Vaccination is at the top of the list. Dr. Schuchat addressed the ongoing concerns regarding the effectiveness of the current seasonal flu vaccine in a simple, straightforward way: “Some protection is better than none.”
“Because of the ongoing intensity of the flu season and the increase in influenza B and H1N1 strains we do continue to recommend the vaccine, despite it being this late in the season,” she added.