Image above: Digitally-colorized image of a collection of influenza A virions. The predominant influenza A virus this year is H1N1.
Every season, flu causes on average 200,000 Americans to go to the hospital and kills thousands to tens of thousands of people depending on the severity of the season. Because flu is unpredictable, each season is different. That’s why CDC works hard to protect people by tracking flu every season. CDC identifies where flu viruses are circulating, those that are most affected by this season’s viruses, and communicates that information to the public.
Here are some things to know about the 2013-2014 flu season so far and steps you can take to protect yourself from flu.
1. Flu activity has picked up across the country.
Flu activity is now increasing nationwide, with the south-central and southeastern United States being the first to get hit hard this year. There will likely be several more weeks of high flu activity, especially in states where activity is just picking up, or has yet to pick up. There are now 41 states reporting widespread flu, so this year’s season is in full swing. To see flu activity levels in your state click here.
2. Young people and middle age adults are at risk, especially if they have at least one risk factor for serious illness.
This season, CDC has received a number of reports of severe flu making young and middle-aged adults sick and an increase in hospitalizations caused by H1N1. It’s important to remember that flu can be a serious disease for anyone—even healthy young people who are often less likely to get vaccinated. The most common circulating flu virus so far this season is H1N1, the same virus that emerged in 2009 to cause a pandemic. During the 2009 pandemic, younger adults and children, particularly those with medical conditions putting them at high risk for flu complications, were more affected by H1N1 than adults 65 and older. This included pregnant women and people who were morbidly obese.
3. It’s still not too late to get vaccinated.
Now is still a good time to get vaccinated since high flu activity will probably continue for several weeks and flu can spread as late as May. All flu vaccines this season are designed to protect against H1N1, the most common flu virus so far this season. CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine, especially people who are at high risk of serious flu complications. To find flu vaccines in your area, click here.
4. If you do become sick with the flu, prescription medications can help.
Flu antiviral drugs (e.g., Tamiflu®, Relenza®) are prescription medicines that can shorten the length of illness and lessen symptoms. Even more importantly, these medicines can reduce your risk of serious complications from flu, including hospitalization and death. The antiviral drugs work best when started as soon as possible after symptoms develop. People with high risk factors who get flu-like symptoms should seek medical care ASAP.
5. CDC continues to monitor flu activity and make recommendations to the public.
Flu is unpredictable, so CDC closely watches flu activity every year. CDC, the World Health Organization, FDA, and many other international partners conduct global flu surveillance 24/7 and work together to select the viruses that the flu vaccine will protect against. During the flu season, CDC reports U.S. flu surveillance weekly on FluView and communicates with health care providers throughout the season to update them on the latest recommendations. CDC encourages the public to “Take 3” – get the flu vaccine, take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, and take antiviral medicines if your doctor prescribes them.
For more on the flu, visit CDC’s Flu webpage.