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A 'severe flu season' or maybe not says the CDC

By Karen Graham     Dec 31, 2014 in Health
The H3N2 flu virus seems to be the primary strain going around this season. The CDC has already confirmed that this year's flu vaccine is not as effective because the H3N2 virus has already mutated, warning us this flu season may be severe.
Not surprisingly, the public may already realize that information on the flu cases going around this year is somewhat confusing. Depending on which major news network is being viewed, the information on the severity of the flu ranges from having crossed the "epidemic threshold," to "not being much different" from past seasons.
The confusion started with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issuing a statement, according to the Washington Post on Dec. 30, that this year's "flu season has officially crossed the epidemic threshold," The government agency reported that in the past week 15 children have died of the flu and the number of states with "high levels" of flu activity had jumped from 13 to 22 states.
Fox News is reporting today that the CDC is saying the nation could be "in the grip of a severe flu season." The CDC is also saying that widespread cases are being reported in 36 states. Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer with the CDC's influenza division, told the H3N2 virus started showing signs of mutating shortly after this year's vaccine was manufactured, making it less effective.
Jhung did say that this year's flu season, which began in November and is expected to end in April, won't be "terribly severe." Jhung pointed out that "We're seeing things that we see every year. We're not seeing dramatically higher levels of flu activity than we see every year."
Cheryl K. Chumley of the Washington Times suggested the CDC's message being reported by the various news networks could be misleading and creating confusion. But is the message really misleading? The CDC says this year's vaccine is only 61 percent effective in protecting the public from the flu virus, yet only 40 percent of those who should be getting the vaccine have done so.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden says that the use of antiviral medications oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) will be particularly important this year. Anti-viral drugs "aren't a substitute for vaccine. Vaccine prevents flu," Frieden said. "But antivirals are an important second line of defense, and this year treatment with anti-viral drugs is especially important."
Frieden says that in past years, only one out of six cases of the flu has been treated with antivirals. He also pointed out that antivirals work best if given within two days of symptoms appearing, and he urges patients and doctors to turn to them right away. "The flu is unpredictable," Frieden said. "This is likely to be an H3N2 predominant season … and H3N2 predominant seasons tend to have more hospitalizations and more deaths."
More about Flu season, CDC, mixed reports, H3N2 strain, epidemic threshold
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