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Colds and flu

18 April 2019

US flu season ebbing, but cases still widespread

Though this year's flu hasn't been as bad as last year's, it's still been severe, and it will be weeks before flu drops to levels needed for the season to be declared over.

Though flu season has probably peaked, beware: Influenza is still widespread in much of the United States, federal health officials say.

"This week activity decreased a little bit, but flu is going to be around for a while," said Lynnette Brammer, from the domestic influenza surveillance team at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Not as bad as last year

Making matters worse, the predominant strain is influenza A H3N2, the most serious type, and it's putting older Americans in the hospital, she said.

How much longer flu season will last depends on how long the H3N2 virus sticks around, and if influenza B viruses start to spread, Brammer said. Right now, B viruses are causing only a small percentage of flu cases.

Though this year's flu hasn't been as bad as last year's, it's still been a severe season, not the mild one health officials had hoped for. It will still be weeks before flu drops to levels needed for the CDC to declare the season over.

In other words, there's still time to get a flu shot if you haven't done so already, Brammer said. "There's still a benefit from getting vaccinated."

That's especially important if you're in a high-risk group, such as the elderly, she said. Seniors are particularly susceptible to H3N2 and its complications, including pneumonia.

The CDC recommends that everyone six months of age and older get vaccinated. There's still plenty of vaccine available, Brammer said.

Protection less than hoped for

And remember: Even if you get the shot for this flu season, you'll still need to get vaccinated in the fall, she said.

That's important because next year's vaccine is different from this year's. Both influenza A strains – H3N2 and H1N1 – have mutated, and the new vaccine has been tweaked to address these changes, Brammer said.

Both strains were included this year's vaccine, but the H3N2 protection has been less than hoped, according to the CDC.

An underrated benefit of the vaccine is that even if you get sick, your flu will be milder than if you haven't been vaccinated. A milder case can prevent complications like pneumonia that can be deadly, especially to the very young and very old.

While CDC doesn't track adult deaths from flu, it does keep tabs on kids. Last week, one more child died from flu, bringing the total nationwide to 77.

Flu remained widespread in 34 states and Puerto Rico, according to CDC. Fourteen states reported regional outbreaks, and the District of Columbia and two states had local flu activity.

If you do get the flu, antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza can make your illness less severe. But if you're sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home so you don't infect others.

Image credit: iStock

 

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Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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