'Flu Is Coming,' Say CDC Officials; Vaccinate Before the Holidays

2010-11 Vaccine Appears to Match Circulating Viruses

December 08, 2010 04:55 pm News Staff

At this time last year, more than 40 states were reporting widespread influenza activity during a flu season in which 12,000 Americans died from illness caused by the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus.

As of Nov. 27 of this year, however, only one state -- Georgia -- was reporting regional influenza activity. Nevertheless, said CDC officials during a Dec. 3 news conference(www.cdc.gov), people should not wait to be vaccinated against the flu.

"We want to make sure that you understand that last year was unusual in terms of the amount of disease we had early in the fall," said Anne Schuchat, M.D., director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during the news conference, which was held to promote National Influenza Vaccination Week(www.cdc.gov), Dec. 5-11. "We don't want people to be complaisant because disease activity has been low so far this year. Flu is coming."

Schuchat said manufacturers already have distributed more than 160 million doses of flu vaccine, the most ever distributed during a single season in the United States. People should take advantage of that ample supply, she said -- especially before attending big holiday gatherings.

"Large increases in flu illnesses often occur after the holidays," she said. "So this is the time to take action. Getting vaccinated is the first and best way to prevent flu, and this year, vaccine supply is plentiful. It's best to get vaccinated before disease is widespread, and, in most years, flu is most intense between January and March."

According to Schuchat, a mix of influenza A (H3N2) and (H1N1) and influenza A and B strains that have not yet been characterized are circulating this season. Preliminary data indicate the majority of the B viruses circulating in Georgia are related to the B virus included in the 2010-11 flu vaccine, which also includes (H1N1) and (H3N2).

"This season's vaccine is a good match for the three main strains that we're seeing," she said.

AAFP, Other Groups Urge Americans to Get Vaccinated Against Flu

The AAFP is one of more than 40 health care organizations that have signed on to an open letter from HHS and the CDC to the American public, urging people to protect themselves and their families by receiving the seasonal influenza vaccine.

The letter was published Dec. 3 in USA Today -- just before the kickoff of National Influenza Vaccination Week(www.cdc.gov), which is Dec. 5-11. It also appeared Dec. 5 in The Washington Post. A CDC spokeswoman said the letter also will be posted on the federal government's Flu.gov website(www.flu.gov).

The letter highlights the fact that this is the first flu season in which immunization is recommended for all people ages 6 months and older in whom the vaccine is not contraindicated.

The letter also stresses that certain people are at increased risk(www.cdc.gov) for serious complications from the flu, namely,

  • adults ages 65 and older;
  • young children;
  • people with chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease; and
  • pregnant and postpartum women.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, voted earlier this year to expand the recommendation for annual influenza vaccination to include all people ages 6 months and older in whom the vaccine is not contraindicated. The AAFP adopted that recommendation.

Schuchat said a CDC telephone survey of more than 47,000 Americans showed that, as of the second week in November, 33 percent of respondents had received the vaccine. In addition, 15 percent of those surveyed said they definitely will receive the vaccine, and another 25 percent said they probably will be vaccinated.

The agency also conducted online surveys of two high-risk groups -- health care workers and pregnant women -- for whom flu vaccination specifically is recommended(4 page PDF). As of mid-November, 56 percent of health care workers surveyed said they had received the vaccine, and 7 percent said they intended to do so.

Several health care organizations -- the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the American College of Physicians, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, and the National Foundation for Patient Safety -- have called for mandatory influenza vaccinations for health care workers to protect both patients and the health care workforce.

Of 1,400 pregnant women the CDC surveyed, 45 percent said they already had been vaccinated, and 4 percent said they intended to receive the vaccine before their due dates.

The AAFP recently joined several other health care professional organizations in urging their respective members to immunize their pregnant and postpartum patients against influenza.

Medical locations remain the most common place for people to receive the flu vaccine, with 63 percent of the CDC's telephone survey respondents indicating they were vaccinated at a physician's office, hospital or clinic. Eighteen percent of respondents said they received the vaccine at work or at school. Retail stores, including pharmacies, accounted for 16 percent of flu vaccinations.