The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that influenza activity in the United States remained elevated and widespread through Feb. 8. What really got the attention of the American public, though, is the revelation that this season’s flu virus has taken a dramatic toll on Americans between the ages of 18 and 64.
In their weekly report the CDC points out that the H1N1 is the predominant virus in the US, and this is the first time that has happened since its outbreak in 2009. The report goes on to say that even though the disease is not as prevalent this year as 2009, people in the 18-64 year-old age group are still at a relatively high risk. As of last week, 61 percent of flu-related hospitalizations were in that age group. In comparison, 18 to 64 year olds accounted for only 35 percent of those hospitalizations over the past 3 years.
Mortality rates follow along the same lines. According to the CDC there were 352 influenza deaths this season so far, easily eclipsing the 138 deaths attributed to the virus in the entire flu season last year. Of all the flu-related deaths this year, 62 percent were in the 25-64 year age group.
Why the increase in the disease for working-class Americans? The CDC offers two possibilities. The first is that this age group might lack the immunity to the H1N1 virus that those over 65 have acquired due to past bouts with similar diseases. The other factor is vaccination. Estimates by the CDC indicate that the 18 to 64 age group has been vaccinated at a rate of only 33.9 percent. In contrast, the 6-month to 17 year age group vaccination rate is over 41 percent, and those older than 65 came in with a rate of 61.8 percent.
The CDC reminds us that the flu virus can cause illness in anyone, and the best protection is annual vaccinations for everyone over 6 months old. Data from the past two flu seasons shows that vaccinations can reduce the risk of flu-related doctor visits by 47 to 61 percent. The center is urging health-care providers to keep the vaccine available for the rest of the flu season. They go on to point out that even if someone had contracted the H1N1 virus during the pandemic of 2009 and still may have a certain amount of residual immunity, chances are that protection has eroded over time. It’s a good idea to get that vaccination again.
The flu virus is affecting all ages this year. For those who happen to get the disease, and fall into one of the high-risk groups, the CDC recommends that you see your doctor within the first 48 hours. These include young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those who might have chronic medical conditions that would be affected by the virus. They are quick to point out, however, that many people who contract the flu will experience only a mild illness and probably don’t need a doctor’s care or one of several anti-viral drugs on the market today. Finally, the CDC advises that those who have the flu and are not in a high-risk group should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.
By Chuck Podhaisky