Flu Hitting Younger Adults Hard, Vaccination Helps
Hospitalizations, deaths up for people 18 to 64
"Younger people may feel that influenza is not a threat to them, but this season underscores that flu can be a serious disease for anyone," said Frieden.
He stressed the value of vaccination. The current flu vaccine has cut the risk of needing medical care for flu-related problems by about 60 percent across all ages, he said, noting that's "encouraging."
However, by November, only one-third of 18- to 64-year-olds had been vaccinated. "That's why we're seeing more hospitalizations and deaths" in that age group, he noted.
Frieden said it's important to remember that some people who get vaccinated may still get sick. "People at high risk of complications should seek treatment if they get a flu-like illness. Their doctors may prescribe antiviral drugs if it looks like they have influenza," he explained.
Dr. Len Horovitz, an internist and pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said six of his patients in the last three weeks -- mostly young adults -- who were vaccinated still had symptoms and tested positive for influenza after a nasal swab test.
He urged people who think they have the flu to see their doctors sooner rather than later if flu symptoms arise. "It's important to see a physician if it's in the first 24 to 48 hours because you can treat with [the antiviral drug] Tamiflu, even in people who have been vaccinated," said Horovitz.
People at high risk for flu complications include pregnant women, people with asthma, diabetes or heart disease, the morbidly obese and people older than 65 or younger than 5 years, but especially those younger than 2 years.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine. "This season vaccinated people were substantially better off than people who did not get vaccinated," Frieden said.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, stressed it's not too late to get a flu shot.
"I want to remind you that the season is not over and things could change," she said at the press conference.