Seema Jain, MD, is a Medical Epidemiologist for the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in the Influenza Division, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Jain joined the Influenza Division’s Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in 2008, where among other responsibilities, she has published important findings on the impact of pandemic 2009 H1N1 influenza among hospitalized and intensive care unit patients. Her current research focuses on influenza and pneumonia, pediatric influenza, influenza complications, and includes work on understanding factors associated with being at high risk for influenza and its complications.
Flu activity remains elevated overall with declines in some parts of the country and increases in others according to CDC’s FluView
report. CDC continues to receive reports of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths, and flu activity is likely to continue for some time. CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine
for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. Getting a flu vaccination now can still help prevent flu complications this winter and spring. In fact, flu vaccination should continue as long as flu viruses are circulating.
The predominant virus circulating so far this flu season is influenza A (H1N1), which emerged and caused the flu pandemic in 2009. While it is not possible to predict which influenza viruses will predominate for the remainder of flu season, if H1N1 continues to circulate widely, flu illness that disproportionately affects young and middle-aged adults may continue to occur this season. CDC has received reports of severe flu illness among young and middle-aged adults, many of whom were infected with the H1N1 virus. So far, about 61% of the reported flu hospitalizations this season have been in people 18 to 64 years old. Unfortunately, younger adults – especially those who are otherwise healthy – are less likely to get vaccinated. Early estimates for this season show that only 31% of 18-49 years old were vaccinated against flu as of November 2013, which is nearly 8 percentage points lower than the flu vaccine coverage estimates for all adults 18 and older in the US during the same time period.
It is also important for people at high risk for developing flu complications
to protect themselves. CDC is getting reports of serious illness and hospitalizations among pregnant women
and people who are obese. As of January 18, 2014, 43% of adults hospitalized with flu have been obese (body mass index of 30 or greater). Also at this time, 23% of reported flu hospitalizations among women of childbearing age (15-44 years) have occurred in pregnant women.
CDC urges you to keep up your flu fighting efforts. Following are some steps you can take:
- Make sure that you and your colleagues are vaccinated. It is important that all health care workers get vaccinated, including those who are not directly involved in patient care but potentially exposed to infectious agents that can be transmitted to and from other health care workers and patients.
- Recommend flu vaccination to your patients. CDC offers free resources*—brochures, flyers, posters, and flu shot reminders—that health care professionals can use to educate and remind patients, including those at high risk of flu complications.
- Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, including: covering your cough and sneeze; washing hands often with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available; and staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone if you do become sick with flu-like symptoms.
- Offer flu antiviral medications Flu Antiviral Medications to your patients based on CDC guidelines and your best clinical judgment. Treat patients with antiviral medications promptly, ideally within 48 hours after the first signs of flu illness. CDC recommends prompt antiviral treatment for those hospitalized, with severe or progressive disease, or at higher risk for influenza complications.
Flu can be a very serious disease for anyone, so let’s work together to protect ourselves, our families, and our colleagues. *To order bulk copies of select CDC flu materials, please visit the Public Health Foundation’s (PHF) Learning Resource Center. PHF is proud to partner with CDC to share information about flu and these valuable resources with you.