“Georgia is reporting high levels of influenza-like activity,” Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said at a news conference. ” It gets a 10 of 10, and is leading the country in terms of what we will be seeing.”
In the U.S., flu season usually begins in the fall and runs through early spring. It peaks anywhere from late November through March.
“We know that the flu season has started here in Georgia, and there has been sporadic reporting of influenza-like viruses throughout the country,” including the Southeast region of the U.S. and some of the Western states, she says. “Places that don’t have as much flu as Georgia will.”
Flu Vaccine Matches This Year’s Strains
The good news is that this year’s flu vaccine, which is recommended for everyone older than 6 months, is likely a good match for this year’s flu, Schuchat says.
“Some H1N1, an A/H3N2 strain, and B-strains have been seen this year, [along with] a mixture of B strains and A strains that haven’t been characterized,” she says. This year’s vaccine protects against seasonal flu and the H1N1 swine flu. “Flu is unpredictable, but based on the viruses circulating so far, we do expect the vaccine to be a good match.”
As far as what type of flu season we can expect, Schuchat can’t predict, but there is ample vaccine to go around which can keep flu activity at a minimum.
Approximately 160 million doses of the vaccine have already been distributed nationwide, she says.
“Don’t be complacent because disease activity is low this year; flu is coming,” she says. “You don’t want to find out how bad the season is going to be before you get the flu vaccine.”
Schuchat says she is encouraged by the number of people who have already received a flu vaccine so far this season.
“We are a little ahead of last year’s seasonal flu vaccine, which we find encouraging because we haven’t had media talking back to back about flu,” she says. Last year, the H1N1 pandemic and a shortage of available vaccine generated many headlines.
“Flu activity is now increasing across the country and the flu season is now underway, so if you are thinking about influenza vaccine, now is a good time to do it,” says Howard Koh, MD, an assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services.
This year’s National Influenza Vaccination Week is being observed on December 5-11.