CDC: Flu season earliest in a decade

e 2012-2013 influenza season is underway about one month earlier than usual, the CDC announced in a press conference coinciding with the start of National Influenza Vaccination Week.

Five states -- Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas -- have reported high flu activity during the week ending Nov. 24, with about 4% of visits attributable to influeza-like illness, and Georgia and Missouri have reported moderate activity.

Overall, about 2.2% of primary-care visits at this point are attributed to influenza-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or some combination.

"This is the earliest regular flu season we've had in nearly a decade, since the 2003-2004 flu season," CDC director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said. "[W]hile flu is always unpredictable, the early nature of the cases as well as the specific strains we're seeing suggest that this could be a bad flu year."

The predominant strain circulating is influenza A H3N2, which has been associated with more severe disease and poorer outcomes in previous seasons. Fortunately, about 90% of influenza strains tested so far match one of the three included in the 2012-2013 trivalent influenza vaccine.

Video: Misconceptions about Flu
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"While it's important to wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay home if you're sick, the vaccine remains the best tool that we have to protect ourselves against flu," Frieden said.

The CDC estimates that about 37% of Americans aged 6 months and older have been vaccinated so far, including 40% of those younger than 18 years, 35% of adults and 47% of pregnant women -- figures on par with the same time frame last year.

Influenza vaccine uptake among health-care professionals including pharmacists, physicians and nurses is about 80% to 90% the agency said.

However, vaccination rates are lower among other health-care workers, particularly long-term care workers, who have a coverage rate of about 49%. "We need to do much better among allied health workers, aids and other health care systems as well as in nursing homes," Freiden said.

This year, many adults have received their flu shot at work sites and pharmacies, which have provided approximately one-third of the vaccines administered, he added.

About 120 million doses of the 135 million doses of influenza vaccine projected to be available this season have been distributed by manufacturers.

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