FRIDAY, Jan. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Forty-eight states are now
reporting widespread flu activity, up from 47 last week, and the
virus is proving particularly dangerous for the elderly, U.S.
health officials reported Friday.
In addition, the number of children who have died from the flu
continues to rise. So far 29 children have died, nine more than was
reported last week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.
While there's no system to report adult deaths from flu, the CDC
said Friday that 8.3 percent of all deaths in 122 cities were
caused by pneumonia and flu. This is higher than the 7.2 percent
the agency uses to define as the threshold for a flu epidemic.
"We are in the middle of flu season, about halfway through, and it's shaping up to be a worse-than-average season and a bad season, particularly, for the elderly," CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said during a Friday news conference.
He said that many parts of the country are still seeing high --
and in some cases increasing -- levels of activity from the H3N2
form of the flu virus, while in other regions rates of infection
are starting to fall.
But the flu is taking a disproportionate toll on seniors,
"Last week hospitalization rates increased sharply in people 65 and over, and this week hospitalization rates for people 65 and over increased sharply again -- to 82 per 100,000, which is really quite a high rate," he said. "In general, we estimate that about 90 percent of flu-related deaths are in people 65 and older."
The 29 pediatric deaths so far compare to 153 deaths reported
during the 2003-2004 season, which was another H3N2 season. "But we
are only in the middle of the season," Frieden noted, adding that
last year 122 children died from the flu.
An estimated 36,000 people die from the flu and its
complications in a typical season, according to the CDC. From 1976
to 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States
ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000
The predominant strain of circulating flu this season continues
to be influenza A H3N2, which typically poses bigger problems for
young children and the elderly, followed by influenza B, according
to the CDC.
However, the predominant strains can vary across states and
regions of the country, the agency noted.
Frieden said there are continued reports of vaccine shortages in
certain areas of the country. The companies that make vaccine for
the United States projected that a total of 135 million doses would
be available. They are, however, able to make additional vaccines
for a total of 145 million. So far 129 million doses have been
distributed, he said.
People can look on the web at Flu.gov to see where vaccine is
available in their area, Frieden said.
Flu season usually peaks in late January or early February, but
by November the flu was already severe and widespread in some parts
of the South and Southeast.
The best defense against the flu remains the flu vaccine and
it's not too late to get vaccinated, the CDC said.
This year's vaccine appears to be well matched for the
circulating flu strains, the CDC said. A recent report put the
vaccine's effectiveness at 62 percent. No vaccine is 100 percent
effective. But if flu strikes, vaccination often results in milder
illness, the agency said.
Two antiviral medications, Tamiflu and Relenza, can reduce flu
symptoms and the course of the disease. To be effective, however,
they must be started within 48 hours after symptoms appear. To
increase the supply of Tamiflu, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner
of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said at the news
conference that the agency is allowing Tamiflu's manufacturer,
Genentech, to distribute reserve doses that contain old packaging
information. These doses aren't out-of-date, only the package
insert is, she said.
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, head and body aches,
and runny nose. People at particular risk for flu and its
complications are pregnant women, those 65 and older and anyone
with a chronic illness. The CDC urges these people to get the flu
vaccine, which is available as an injection or nasal spray and in a
stronger dose for seniors.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get
For more on flu, visit the
U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.
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