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    CDC Warns of Potentially Severe Flu Season

    Woman SneezingEarly data suggests that the current 2014-2015 flu season could be severe, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As a result of the prediction, the CDC has urged immediate vaccination with the flu shot or flu mist for all individuals still unvaccinated this flu season. The CDC also recommends prompt treatment with antiviral medications for individuals at high risk of complications who contract the flu.

    Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by various flu viruses. Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Complications of the flu include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections, and death. Influenza is not the same as the stomach flu, which is characterized by nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

    States CDC director Tom Frieden in regard to the warning, “It’s too early to say for sure that this will be a severe flu season, but Americans should be prepared.”

    The most common flu viruses in the United States this year have been seasonal influenza A H3N2 viruses, which typically cause more severe flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. H3N2 viruses were circulating during the 2012-2013, 2007-2008, and 2003-2004 seasons, the three seasons with the highest flu-related death rates in the past decade.

    Getting the influenza vaccine is the only effective means of protection against the flu. The CDC also reports that the most common strains of circulating flu viruses are so-called “drift variants” of the H3N2 viruses used in the current formulation of the influenza vaccine. Drift variants are viruses with antigenic or genetic changes from the strains in the vaccine, meaning that the vaccine strains are not a perfect match for all circulating viruses.

    Flu viruses change constantly, making the creation of the seasonal influenza vaccine more difficult. Researchers first detected the drifted H3N2 viruses in late March 2014 after the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the viruses for inclusion in the current 2014-2015 Northern Hemisphere vaccine in mid-February.

    However, despite an increase in drift variants, the influenza vaccine can still provide partial protect against influenza infection and may also reduce the severity of symptoms in individuals who contact the flu.

    The CDC thus urges continued vaccination with the seasonal flu shot.

    Explains Joseph Bresee, M.D., Chief of the Influenza Epidemiology and Prevention Branch at CDC:

    “While the vaccine’s ability to protect against drifted H3N2 viruses this season may be reduced, we are still strongly recommending vaccination. Vaccination has been found to provide some protection against drifted viruses in past seasons. Also, vaccination will offer protection against other flu viruses that may become more common later in the season.”

    Adds Frieden:

    “We can save lives with a three-pronged effort to fight the flu: vaccination, prompt treatment for people at high risk of complications, and preventive health measures, such as staying home when you’re sick, to reduce flu spread.”

    The CDC recommends vaccination against the flu to almost all individuals over the age of 6 months, especially individuals at high risk from flu-related complications including children under the age of 5; adults 65 and older; pregnant women; and individuals with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease, and kidney disease. Pregnant women can receive the flu shot, and vaccination during pregnancy can provide some protection to babies under the age of 6 months.

    References

    CDC: Prepare for ‘Potentially Severe’ Flu Season: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/286514.php
    Early Data Suggests Potentially Severe Flu Season: http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p1204-flu-season.html

    Image Credits

    Woman Sneezing: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/894326

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