The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a teleconference Monday to announce that flu cases are on the rise around the U.S. CDC Director Thomas Frieden called this start of the 2012-2013 flu season “the earliest regular flu season in nearly a decade,” adding, “This could be a bad flu year.”
The conference call was held to kick off the start of the 2012 National Influenza Vaccination Week, observed the first week of December every year. National Influenza Vaccination Week was established in 2005 to highlight the importance of continuing influenza vaccination in December and beyond.
The most recent CDC FluView surveillance shows high levels of influenza-like illness activity in five U.S. states: Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana., Mississippi and Texas. Frieden added that he expects it is “just a matter of time” before activity increases in other states.
In the past, flu seasons have been more severe when the influenza A virus subtype H3N2 is in wide circulation. Melinda Wharton, acting director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, reported that so far this year there has been a predominance of this influenza strain.
However, Frieden suggested that there is some good news: “This year’s strains look to be a great match for the influenza vaccine.” Based on early testing of flu specimens, the composition of the 2012-2013 seasonal influenza vaccine is a 98 percent match for the flu viruses that are circulating in the population. “The vaccine is still the best tool to protect against the flu,” he said.
During the teleconference, CDC also announced that flu vaccination rates have been increasing over the past few years, especially among vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, children and health care workers. Newly-released mid-season influenza immunization rates indicate that between 80-90 percent of pharmacists, doctors and nurses have received the flu vaccine this year.
CDC officials stated that there is plenty of influenza vaccine still available for those who have not been vaccinated yet, and that it’s not too late to get the seasonal flu shot. Frieden encouraged people to get vaccinated before holiday get-togethers, adding: “Spread good cheer and give presents; don’t spread infections and give the flu.”
For more information about CDC’s seasonal influenza surveillance, visit: www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/fluactivitysurv.htm.