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Entries in Flu Season (12)

Saturday
Mar232013

Virulent Flu Season Winding Down

Pixland/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- This year's virulent -- and in some cases fatal -- flu season is winding down, health officials say.

While the rate of flu activity is still elevated above normal for the end of March, activity declined in most parts of the U.S. last week. According to the Center for Disease Control, only one state, Michigan, is still reporting high levels of flu activity.

On the contrary, 38 states reported experiencing minimal flu activity. In a season that has been particularly dangerous for older people and younger children, the end of flu season is a welcome sight.

According to HealthDay News, just over 50 percent of flu-related hospitalizations have involved people over the age of 65.

While the official statistics on this flu season have not been released, officials insist that the number of flu-related deaths this year are above the threshold used to declare a flu epidemic.

Flu season usually peaks in late January and early February. The flu vaccine remains the best defense against the flu, says the CDC.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan082013

Early Flu Season Hits Hard

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The flu is back and with a vengeance.

Hitting the U.S. unusually early and hard this year, the flu season has officially arrived and it won’t be departing anytime soon. Those who have a healthy appreciation for the often-underestimated and crippling powers of the flu usually will take every precaution to avoid it.  If not, it’s never too soon to get prepared and not too late to get vaccinated against one of the most notorious and common winter maladies.

If you’re young and healthy, the flu may just make you feel lousy for a week or two, miss some work, and spread the infection to some of your favorite people. If you’re elderly, have medical problems, are pregnant, or are a young child, you may not be so lucky. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and depending on the year, between 3,000 and 49,000 people die.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated.

You may have heard about a new study on flu vaccines. It found that the flu vaccine doesn’t work as well as we thought or would like. However, it still offers considerable protection. In adults ages 18-65 the benefits of the flu shot vary year by year, but on average the vaccine is 59-percent protective. For children the story is better. For those younger than seven the nasal spray vaccine is 83-percent protective.

Unfortunately, the vaccine works least well in the elderly, the group at greatest risk of severe infection. They should still get vaccinated, but remember that when they do, it helps to keep them safe too. Clearly, we need better vaccines, but it’s still a really good idea to get vaccinated. There is also good news for kids — the nasal spray vaccine works great and there is no needle!

There are a couple of myths to bust:

  1. Can the flu shot give me the flu? No. You may have a sore arm or a little fever but the shot does not contain a live virus and cannot give you the flu.
  2. If I got the flu shot last year, do I need it this year? Yes!  It isn’t clear how long protection lasts and most years the vaccine protects against different strains of flu than the year before.

How do you know if you have the flu or just a bad cold? Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly and frequently and include high fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, and body aches. Some people, particularly children, may have diarrhea and vomiting. If you have these symptoms, do not come to work. The last thing you really want to do is infect others.

Finally, here is some advice for what to do if you get the flu:

  • If you have underlying medical problems, call your doctor early in the illness to see if they want to prescribe an antiviral drug.
  • Stay home until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours. That will cut down on the number of people to whom you might give it.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Keep your hands clean — use soap and water or hand sanitizer frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing.
  • Drink plenty of liquids!

The biggest advice to you is this: The best approach to the flu is to not get it and not share it. Get vaccinated.  Stay home if you’re sick.

For more information on the flu visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jan062013

Flu Cases Rise Across U.S., CDC Says Vaccination Not Too Late

Pixland/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Flu cases are rising across the United States and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it's not too late to get vaccinated, Health Day reports.

The influenza season this year has gotten off to an early start and officials fear a severe season. A spokesperson with the CDC said that, although flu season usually peaks in late January or early February, the flu was already severe and widespread in parts of the South and Southeast by November. Activity has increased further north in the Mid-Atlantic states, includig Virginia, Illinois and Rhode Island. CDC statistics showed a total of 41 states reporting widespread flu activity through Dec. 29, Health Day says.

The spokesperson said this year's predominant strain is H3N2, which tends to be more severe in young children and the elderly. According to the CDC, an estimated 36,000 people die from the flu and related complications in a typical flu season. So far this season, there have been 18 flu-related deaths of children, Health Day reports.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan032013

Hard-Hitting Flu Strain Strikes Early, Health Officials Warn

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- This year's flu season is now in full swing and IS expected to get worse. The flu season typically hits hardest in January and February, but can last until May. With many returning home after holiday travels, the flu is able to spread quickly.

Widespread flu activity is now being reported in much of the country, including the East Coast and in the West in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Texas and Alaska.  

In Washington state, Tim McDonald with the Snohomish County Health District says they have already seen an increase in flu cases.

"We are having an early influenza season.  And it's a serious influenza season and we've had a definite uptick in hospitalizations," says McDonald.

But why would this flu season be spreading so quickly, so soon? Health experts are exploring the possibilities for a cause of this fast-spreading flu.  Is this a new flu? One that isn't in this year's vaccine? One to which we're not all immune?

Health officials say the problem is that many cases are coming from a strain of influenza -- called subtype B -- which was not included in this year's vaccine.

"It's a new strain that is not absolutely new, but a little bit new to our population," McDonald says.

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC's chief health and medical editor, says that often people are infectious long before they know it, spreading the virus even further.

"There hasn't been an outbreak this early for 10 years, and that year the flu season was severe.  We know that with just one sneeze, the virus can spread almost 20 feet in just seconds.  You're infectious a full day before you show any symptoms; a bad mix," he says.

The fast-spreading nature of this flu has health workers scrambling. McDonald advises that anyone over six months of age is recommended to get a flu shot. A shot helps stop the spread as well as immunize each patient.

"I would urge everyone, not just for themselves, but for their friends, neighbors and relatives and their children, to get vaccinated right away," he says.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec042012

NC Hospitals Warn Employees to Get a Flu Shot or Get Fired

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With officials at the Centers for Disease Control saying it’s gearing up to be a bad flu season, several North Carolina hospitals are taking no chances and requiring that all employees either get a flu shot or be fired.

This past summer, officials at First Health Moore Regional Hospital adopted a policy that requires all staff who routinely work in patient care areas to be vaccinated annually for influenza.

Officials at the care facilities say the forward-thinking policy was put in place because the common flu may have not-so-common effects on people facing more serious illnesses and whose immune systems are not strong enough to combat the virus.

First Health is just one of several North Carolina medical facilities taking the aggressive preventative approach.

“It’s definitely a national trend,” says Dr. B. Anthony Lindsey, chief medical officer for University of North Carolina Hospitals, where the policy is also in its pilot year.  “Influenza is an extremely contagious disease.  For some of our patients, it could have very serious consequences — including death.”

Most hospitals already require tuberculosis tests and hepatitis shots, but while the flu may be more common than those illnesses, its impact could be just as serious.

“Hospitals require personnel to get tested for tuberculosis so that they don’t spread that disease. The flu shot requirement is no different,” says ABC News’ chief health and medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser.

Cone Health Systems, a conglomerate of five North Carolina hospitals, was one of the first hospital groups to put the policy in place three years ago during the H1N1, or “bird flu,” outbreak.  Since that time, two people who work closely with patients have been fired for not taking the vaccine — showing hospitals are not taking chances on patients’ health.

“Our values at this hospital is that we care for our patients, we care for others and we care for our community,” says Dr. Mary Jo Cagle, the executive vice president and chief quality officer for Cone Health.  “It’s not unusual in many venues — in schools, and in many jobs — to have to require vaccinations. ”

There are exceptions, ranging from health to religious reasons, that hospitals take into account.  Employees who fall under those categories are not considered non-compliant.

The policies at these medical facilities come just as the Centers for Disease Control warns of a bad flu season.  CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said Monday that instances of the flu had arrived a full month earlier than normal.

“It looks like it’s shaping up to be a bad flu season,” Frieden said.

Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas have reported enough seasonal flu cases to officially mark the beginning of the flu season.

“We’re seeing the beginning of the uptick start at least a month before we’d generally see it,” Frieden said, explaining that flu rates typically start to rise in early January.

Only 37 percent of Americans eligible for the flu vaccine actually get vaccinated for the virus.

“This is a part of our hospital’s and other hospitals’ nationwide attempt to provide the safest possible care of the patients for whom we’re responsible,” Frieden said. “This is just another part of that effort.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov282012

100 Children Annually Die of Flu -- More Quickly Than You'd Expect

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In just eight months at his new school in Rifle, Colo., Austin Booth made a name for himself as a star athlete, honor student and a popular classmate with a promising future.

But within six days of contracting the flu last January, Austin was dead. He was 17. His parents had never even considered giving a flu shot to their otherwise healthy teen.

"It was flu season and we knew other kids who were sick and we didn't think that much about it," said his mother, Regina Booth, 42. "It was pretty tough -- and it seems like just yesterday." She now annually immunizes her four other children, aged 3 to 16.

In the past four years, the CDC has changed its recommendations and now urges all Americans six months and older get a flu shot. Children under the age of 9, who are getting immunized for the first time, should get two doses, one month apart.

Booth said she still cannot believe how sudden her son's death was. On Tuesday night, he had started and played a full basketball game. By Wednesday night, he was coughing up blood and was rushed to the hospital with pneumonia.

His condition got worse.  He struggled to breathe, and was intubated before being airlifted to another facility.  Soon after, Austin had to be taken off of a ventilator and manually “bagged.”  Tests showed the teen positive for the virulent infection MRSA.

Hundreds of Austin's new friends showed up for his funeral. The basketball team retired his #2 jersey.

"We had never gotten the flu shot -- not any of us," she said. "We thought, we don't need it, we are healthy. If we get the shot it will make us sick."

Dr. William Schaffner, professor and chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said that people are fooled into thinking that influenza, a serious respiratory infection, is just like a cold.

"People use the word 'flu' very casually to refer to a whole variety of winter illnesses, including a stuffy nose, and that tends to trivialize it," said Schaffner. "It is a serious viral infection -- it wreaks havoc on all the body's systems."

"Although it can be mild and often is, it is often very, very serious and can strike an otherwise normal child and put them in intensive care, usually within 48 hours." He added that while serious complications occur most often among older people, about a hundred American children die every year from the disease.

With 120 million doses of influenza vaccine given each year in the U.S. alone, it is "wonderfully safe," with side effects including a sore arm or, rarely, a day of fever. But despite being covered by insurance carriers, only half of all children are immunized.  

Schaffner reiterated the vaccine cannot give a person the flu. "That's an urban myth," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Feb242012

Flu Season Just Beginning, Could Ramp Up Quickly

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- At the time of year when lots of Americans are usually coughing, sneezing, aching and feverish with the flu, doctor's offices and hospitals across the U.S. have been surprisingly quiet.

February is usually the month when U.S. flu cases peak, and more people become sick than in any other month. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this year's flu season has only just begun.

"This is the latest start to a flu season in the past 29 years," said Dr. Joseph Bresee, chief of the influenza division at the CDC's Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in a teleconference.

Officials typically declare a start to the flu season once the number of respiratory specimens testing positive for flu rises above 10 percent, which usually happens by late December, sometimes as early as October.

But this year, the numbers didn't hit the 10 percent mark until early February. Last week, about 15 percent tested positive for flu, up from almost 13 percent the week before.

Bresee said it's unclear exactly why the flu has been so sluggish this year, but a few theories are floating around. For one, the warmer weather in most parts of the country may make it harder for flu viruses, which thrive in cold, dry climates, to survive. More pleasant weather could also mean people are spending less time indoors in close quarters, transmitting viruses to one another.

Also, the strains of the virus are relatively the same this year as in 2011. Most of this season's flu cases have been caused by H3N2 and H1N1. The H1N1 virus has been circulating for the past three years, said Dr. Jon Abramson, professor and chairman of pediatrics at Wake Forest Medical School.

"The virus is essentially unchanged," Abramson said. "More people have been exposed to it so fewer people are susceptible to it."

Bresee also noted that the lower numbers of flu cases point to the success of flu vaccines. More people were vaccinated by November 2011 than by November 2010, although it's hard to count exactly how many have gotten a flu shot, he said.

But even though the flu season has been less virulent so far, it's likely that it will ramp up in the coming months.

According to the CDC's weekly flu report, all 50 states have reported some flu activity, and California and Colorado reported widespread flu activity. Although the numbers of flu-related doctor's visits, hospitalizations and deaths are lower than this time last year, three children have died from the flu so far.

Abramson said it's not too late to get a flu shot, which the CDC recommends for everyone older than 6 months old.

"If you haven't been vaccinated yet, you should be," he said. "It is likely there will be some peak in the flu in March."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Feb142012

After Slow Start, Flu Season Has Arrived

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- After a late start, the flu season ball has begun to roll, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said it has been the slowest start to a flu season in three decades, but the first week of February seemed to change that tune. The percentage of specimens testing positive for influenza rose from 7.6 percent two weeks ago to 10.5 percent last week.

“The increases we are seeing in the number of respiratory samples testing positive for flu should forecast increases in other flu activity indicators in the coming weeks,” Lyn Finelli, chief of domestic surveillance for the CDC’s Influenza Division, said in a statement.

Still, most of the country hasn’t seen the flu’s full effects yet. Flu season can start as early as October and can last until May, and the timing of the season is quite unpredictable, according to the report.

The western states have seen a small increase in flu activity, but the Northeast and Midwest are reporting minimal cases of flu. California is the first state to report widespread influenza this season.

ABC News reached out to several experts on influenza. A few reported seeing more types of viral activity aside from influenza, but it is unclear whether this indicates true prevalence;  it might just be more noticeable because there are fewer flu cases this year.

“We have had several other viruses, [including] rhinovirus, coronavirus and metapneumovirus,” said Dr. Daniel Hinthorn of the infectious disease department at University of Kansas Hospital and Medical Center. “These can have a cold-like illness with some minor fever and aching but not nearly so bad as influenza. So far, there have been few cases of flu and flu-like illness compared to last year.”

Also, mild weather patterns may be a factor in the mild or late start to the season, experts said.

In New York, Dr. Tracy Zivin-Tutela of the infectious disease department at St. Luke-Roosevelt Hospital said the hospital had seen a bigger surge in gastrointestinal viruses.

Nevertheless, “I would not count the flu out yet for the season,” said Zivin-Tutela. “It is possible we will see a delay in the surge of flu activity due to the mild winter.  We could start to see a spike in March or even later.”

Still, flu season is far from over, and experts continue to implore people to get flu shots if they haven’t already.  On top of that, hand-washing is key to preventing the flu. If you get the flu, be sure to stay home and away from people while sick.

“It is not too late to get a flu shot, and it’s a good idea to get one every year,” said Elizabeth Casman, associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. “Getting vaccinated not only protects you but also protects the people you would have infected if you had not been vaccinated and caught the flu.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec062011

It's Not Too Late: Where to Get a Flu Shot

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It’s that time of the year again: flu, and in turn, flu shot, season.

If you still haven’t gotten your shot yet, it's not too late.  Here are places where you can get the vaccine:

Health Care Offices: Doctor’s offices remain the most common location for people to receive the influenza vaccine.  So far, about 55 percent of people who have gotten a flu shot went to a medical office to receive it.

Pharmacies: Pharmacy giants like Walgreens, Rite-Aid, Duane Reade and CVS offer flu shots to the public. Most insurance plans are accepted at these places, and customers usually do not need an appointment.

Wholesale Stores: Costco, Sam’s Club and other wholesale retailers often have pharmacies built into their superstores.  It’s the same deal as the pharmacy giants: they take most major insurance plans and there is usually no scheduling necessary.

Grocery Stores: Many supermarkets, the bigger names and some local joints, offer the shot, which is usually administered by pharmacists.  Often, these places offer extended and weekend service, along with low rates or coupons.

Your Employer: To reduce sick days, many companies offer flu shots at work.  Check with your company or boss to see if a flu shot may be available at your place of employment.  Companies often take on the cost as an incentive to keep their employees healthy and safe during flu season.

For parents who may be worried about costs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine for Children Program offers free vaccines to financially vulnerable children.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec052011

CDC Kicks Off National Influenza Vaccination Week

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) kicked off National Influenza Vaccination Week (Dec. 4 to 10) by holding a teleconference to update the public on the latest flu statistics across the country. CDC officials expressed “cautious optimism” for flu prevention because there was a slight uptick in those getting the flu vaccine throughout all ages and demographics.

The latest flu facts came from an Internet-based national flu survey conducted from Nov. 1 to Nov. 13.

“Influenza is a serious and unpredictable disease,” said Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, during a CDC teleconference.  “It’s not too late to vaccinate.”

Koh emphasized the importance of children, pregnant women, health care workers and people with chronic conditions getting vaccinated. While about 42 percent of people with chronic conditions had received a flu vaccine, most children across the country had already received one as of Nov. 13.

“Influenza activity in the United States does not typically peak until January or February, and influenza activity was low as of the third week in November,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, during the teleconference.

According to the survey, Schuchat said about 36 percent, or 111 million eligible Americans, had received a flu shot by the end of the survey dates. Vaccines have never been more readily available, said Schuchat, and people should take advantage of that availability by visiting their local medical offices, grocery stores, pharmacies and job sites.

While the researchers hope that millions more flu shots will be doled out in the coming months, Schuchat said they are encouraged by data relating to racial and ethnic disparities.

“There were no disparities among minority children,” said Schuchat. “The coverage was highest in Hispanic children.”

Among adults, Schuchat said the disparities among minorities were more worrisome.  About 40 percent of white adults received the vaccine, 26 percent of Hispanics and 28 percent of blacks. Forty-three percent of pregnant women had been vaccinated.

“Our hope every year is that we’re going to use all the flu vaccines that are distributed,” said Schuchat. “We believe that supplies are still ample around the country.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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