Americans are gearing up for travel to celebrate the winter holidays amid a mild start to the influenza season.
As travel starts to increase for the winter holidays, influenza infections are bound to rise, but data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are still showing relatively mild influenza activity across the United States.
“New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the Southeast and the Northwest” have seen the highest influenza activity so far, stated Lynnette Brammer, MPH, an epidemiologist with the CDC, in a recent press release. Additionally, the majority of infections are showing up as the H3N2 strain of the virus, which is also included in this year’s vaccine. According to Ms. Brammer, initial hospitalizations from influenza infections are low; however, the “highest rate right now is in the elderly.” Still, the current data is matching up with the last several years’ influenza data (about “7 hospitalizations per every 100,000” for elderly patients infected with influenza).
Because health officials do not yet know how severe this season’s flu will be they are advising that it is not too late to receive this year’s flu shot.
Ms. Brammer stated that although the predominant strain so far this year is H3N2, the H1N1 strain of the virus is also circulation. As the season gets underway, influenza activity is expected to rise, and we could see incidences of H1N1 infections surpass H3N2, as was the case last year, according to Ms. Brammer. Both the H3N2 and H1N1 strains of influenza are included in this year’s vaccine.
The 2016-2017 trivalent influenza vaccine protects against the following strains of influenza:
“Four component vaccines are recommended to include the same three viruses above, plus an additional B virus called B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata lineage),” according to the CDC. It is important to note that the live attenuated influenza vaccine (nasal spray flu vaccine) is not recommended for use this year.
According to the CDC, more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized each year due to complications from the flu. As such, influenza vaccination is the best way to protect yourself. Although the CDC recommends that all individuals 6 months of age and older should receive an influenza vaccine, there has been concern about receiving the vaccine for those with egg allergies, because egg protein is known to be included in influenza vaccines. This year, the CDC updated its “recommendations for flu vaccination of persons with egg allergy,” stating that, “Persons with a history of egg allergy who have experienced only hives after exposure to egg should receive flu vaccine.” Individuals who have further concerns should review the CDC website.
Children younger than 5 years of age, adults older than 65, pregnant women, nursing home residents, individuals of American Indian and native Alaskan descent, as well as those with certain health conditions are at highest risk of complications from influenza infection, according to the CDC. Although it is recommended that individuals receive a flu shot before the end of the October in the Northern Hemisphere, those who are interested in receiving the vaccine can still do so throughout January or even later and be protected against the virus.