The 2012-13 influenza season began a month early this time around. Reports of flu-like illnesses and confirmed flu cases so far indicate peak reporting in the third week of December. The most recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covered the one-week period ending Dec. 29, with a substantial decrease in confirmed and reported influenza illnesses.
Status of Flu Illness in U.S. as of Dec. 29
Even though there were fewer people seeing health care providers for flu-like illnesses the week of Dec. 23 through Dec. 29, the CDC reported that the last week of December still saw reporting numbers above the baseline for the fourth consecutive week.
Twenty-nine states and New York City reported high levels of flu activity, an increase over 16 states reporting that level the week prior. Nine states reported moderate levels of influenza activity. Forty-one states reported widespread geographic flu activity.
Hospitalizations and Deaths Related to Influenza
The CDC reported that in the last full week of December, 2,257 laboratory-confirmed flu illnesses resulted in hospitalizations, a number that represented an increase in hospitalizations from the illness by 723 from the prior week. Translating those numbers to the overall population, 8.1 persons in every 100,000 were hospitalized as a result of influenza.
The CDC indicated that the proportion of deaths due to complications of the flu remained slightly below the epidemic threshold. Two pediatric deaths have resulted from the flu, both from influenza-B viruses.
Influenza-A has been the predominantly causative virus of the laboratory-confirmed illnesses.
Flu Vaccinations and Antiviral Medications
Dr. Joe Bresee, Chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the CDC's Influenza Division, cautioned the nation in a statement made Friday that there is no way of knowing how severe the flu season will be, but that many people have already been ill or hospitalized due to the influenza viruses.
Bresee advised that anyone who has not received the flu vaccine should do so now and added that people with severe flu symptoms and those at high risk for complications from the flu should get treated immediately with influenza antiviral medications whether they have been vaccinated or not. Bresee added that health care providers do not have to wait on laboratory confirmation of the flu to prescribe the antiviral medications.
Who Is at High Risk for Complications from Influenza?
Individuals who are considered to be a high-risk from complications from the flu include children age 5 years and younger and particularly children younger than 2 years; adults age 65 and older; pregnant women; Native Americans and Eskimo Natives; people with conditions such as asthma and other chronic lung conditions; blood, liver or kidney disorders; conditions with weakened immune systems and more.
Influenza is an illness that demands respect in that it can cause life-threatening complications. All age groups may be affected, from the newborn to baby boomers and their seniors. Preventive measures such as frequent hand washing, good nutrition, and regular physical activity should be followed in efforts to stave off illness.