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Flu Season Begins in the United States

OCT 11, 2017 | EINAV KEET
With the arrival of October marking the official start of flu season, health officials in parts of the United States are already reporting their first flu cases and encouraging the public to start receiving their flu shots.

Flu season typically begins each year in October, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with flu activity peaking between December and February, and, at times, lasting until May. Receiving the flu shot each season is the best way to prevent infection, as the virus changes from year to year; each season the recommended vaccine is designed to protect against circulating viruses. The trivalent influenza vaccine for the 2017-2018 flu season includes an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09–like virus, an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus, and a B/Brisbane/60/2008–like virus (Victoria lineage). The seasonal quadrivalent vaccine also includes influenza B vaccine virus, a B/Phuket/3073/2013–like virus (Yamagata lineage).

The CDC recently launched its seasonal flu vaccination campaign, with the director of the agency’s Influenza Division Daniel B. Jernigan, MD, MPH, receiving his shot. “In the United States, millions of people get sick, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and tragically thousands or tens of thousands die from flu each year,” Dr. Jernigan said in a recent interview. “Even healthy people get seriously ill from flu every year, but people who are very young, the elderly, pregnant women and people with certain underlying health problems are at high risk of serious flu complications. CDC recommends everyone 6 months of age and older get vaccinated annually.” Last season, 59% of children between the ages of 6 months to 17 years received a flu shot, as did 43.3% of adults 18 years of age and older.

In Idaho, a state resident has died in what health officials are saying is their first flu death of the season. The resident, a man over the age of 50 in northern Idaho, died of complications from influenza this month. Last year the first flu-related death in Idaho occurred in December, and a total of 72 individuals in the state died due to flu-related illnesses.

“The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is warning residents that the flu season appears to have arrived early this year, with this first influenza-related death of the season and early reports of flu activity from other parts of the state,” said the state’s influenza surveillance coordinator Leslie Tengelsen, PhD, DVM, in a recent press release. “This underscores how important it is for all of us to take precautions now to avoid influenza infections. In addition to washing your hands and staying home if you are sick, visit your health care provider, local public health district, or pharmacy to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Getting vaccinated today will help protect you and your family now and for the rest of the influenza season.”

In California, an 86-year-old San Diego County man died on October 1, 2017, after being hospitalized with complications from the flu. According to a press release, last year, San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency reported its first flu death on October 4th, and in total, the county saw 86 flu-related deaths. Health officials say San Diego has already reported 203 laboratory-confirmed flu cases this season, whereas last year at this time,  there were only 60 confirmed flu cases. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is urging state residents to get vaccinated this season, noting that young children, individuals who are 65 years and older, pregnant women, and individuals with certain medical conditions are at greater risk of experiencing flu-related complications.

"Getting vaccinated is the best protection against flu illness," said CDPH state health officer Karen Smith, MD. "You can prevent missing work or school, visits to the doctor or hospitalizations, and protecting others from coming down with the flu."
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