Feb. 9, 2018 --This flu season shows few signs of letting up and has entered record-breaking territory, the CDC says.
Hospitalizations for the flu are the highest recorded since the CDC began tracking them a decade ago. They are especially high for adults between the ages of 50 and 64.
“I wish that there were better news this week, but almost everything we’re looking at is bad news,” said Anne Schuchat, MD, acting director of the CDC.
The flu continues to be widespread across 48 states. Only Oregon and Hawaii have seen infections slow in some areas.
So far this season, 63 children have died. Although CDC officials don’t know how many of those children got a flu shot, most who died of the flu in past years had not gotten one.
In a media call on Friday, Schuchat warned Americans not to let their guard down, even if they’ve already had the flu this year. The flu has two strains -- A and B -- and it’s possible to get infected with both at the same time, or at different times in the same season.
The season had been dominated by “A” strains, which are thought to cause more severe illness. Schuchat says lab tests are showing that “B” strains of the flu were starting to creep up.
“It’s not uncommon for B strains to increase later in the season,” she said.
“The idea that a person could get infected with A and during the same season get infected with B definitely happens. It’s one of the reasons we say even if you’ve already had flu this season, it makes sense to get vaccinated because it could protect you against the other strains,” Schuchat said.
The flu vaccine tends to be more effective against B strains.
It’s also possible, she says, to be infected with two strains of flu at the same time.
“In a season that’s so intense like this, we may hear of more of those cases. It is possible to get the two at the same time. We know it’s not a lab error, that can happen,” she added.
The CDC hasn’t yet released its first estimates of this year’s flu vaccine effectiveness, or how well it keeps a person out of the doctor’s office. Those are expected in the next few weeks.
In Australia, which saw roughly the same strains of the flu and had the same vaccine, the shot’s effectiveness was very low -- just 10% -- against the most common strains.
Canada’s experience mirrored that. When Canadian health authorities released their first estimates of the flu shot’s effectiveness last week, the numbers were low. Overall, the vaccine was 17% effective at preventing respiratory illness from this season’s dominant strain, H3N2, and only 10% effective in working-age adults.
But the shot was 55% effective against the B strains.
“Some protection is better than none,” Schuchat said.
She also recommended the pneumococcal vaccine for children under age 2 and people ages 65 and older. It can help prevent severe complications of the flu, including pneumonia and bloodstream infections.
She also urged people who are sick to stay home to avoid infecting others.
“What may be mild symptoms for you could be deadly for someone else,” Schuchat said.