I am a bit amused at the news coverage for the flu this year. It has officially reached “crazy!” I mean, the flu does happen every winter and by looking at the news coverage it seems that no one recalls that…everyone seems to have a memory problem! ;-)
The picture has certainly changed over the past three weeks. Last week, was week one (as the CDC likes to count them) and we saw the U.S. in the throes of epidemic influenza. In fact, Forty-seven states reported widespread geographic influenza activity for the week between December 30, 2012 and January 5, 2013. This is an increase from 41 states in the previous week (week 52) and 31 states the week before (week 51).
I thought about this last week when flying back to California from Maryland. The entire plane was coughing and hacking! I am shocked that the entire country isn’t brown and really surprised California isn’t brown!!!!
There is also Google Trends which has a different color scheme and comes about their findings differently but the net result is about the same. Google uses search trends to plot their map – they have noted a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Pretty cool! http://www.google.org/flutrends/intl/en_us/about/how.html
All of this has prompted CDC to again issue calls for vaccination and antiviral treatment against influenza and in some places in the country (Boston and New York state), public health departments, to issues “states of emergency” which gives pharmacists the authority to vaccinate patients.
While the timing of influenza seasons is impossible to predict, based on past experience it’s likely that flu activity will continue for some time. During the past 10 influenza seasons, flu has remained at or above baseline for an average of 12 consecutive weeks.
One factor that may indicate increased severity this season is that the predominant circulating type of influenza virus is influenza A (H3N2) viruses, which account for about 76 percent of the viruses reported. Typically ‘H3N2 seasons’ have been more severe, with higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, but of course time will tell.
One bit of good news is that so far this season, most (91%) of the influenza viruses that have been analyzed at CDC are like the viruses included in the 2012-2013 influenza vaccine. The match between the vaccine virus and circulating viruses is one factor that impacts how well the vaccine works.
Its not too late, if you are not flu vaccinated yet, if you can find one, get it!