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Early data suggests potentially severe flu season in United States: CDC

Early data suggests that the current 2014-2015 flu season could be severe, with related human resource business continuity issues for organizations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges immediate vaccination for anyone still unvaccinated this season and recommends prompt treatment with antiviral drugs for people at high risk of complications who develop flu.

So far this year, seasonal influenza A H3N2 viruses have been most common. There often are more severe flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths during seasons when these viruses predominate. For example, H3N2 viruses were predominant during the 2012-2013, 2007-2008, and 2003-2004 seasons, the three seasons with the highest mortality levels in the past decade. All were characterized as ‘moderately severe.’

Increasing the risk of a severe flu season is the finding that roughly half of the H3N2 viruses analyzed are drift variants: viruses with antigenic or genetic changes that make them different from that season’s vaccine virus. This means the vaccine’s ability to protect against those viruses may be reduced, although vaccinated people may have a milder illness if they do become infected. During the 2007-2008 flu season, the predominant H3N2 virus was a drift variant yet the vaccine had an overall efficacy of 37 percent and 42 percent against H3N2 viruses.

“It’s too early to say for sure that this will be a severe flu season, but Americans should be prepared,” said CDC director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.

Influenza viruses are constantly changing. The drifted H3N2 viruses were first detected in late March 2014, after World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for the 2014-2015 Northern Hemisphere vaccine had been made in mid-February. At that time, a very small number of these viruses had been found among the thousands of specimens that had been collected and tested.

A committee of experts must pick which viruses to include in the vaccine many months in advance in order for vaccine to be produced and delivered in time for the upcoming flu season. There is always the possibility that viruses will drift during that time.

Influenza activity is currently low in the United States as a whole, but is increasing in parts of the country.

•Date: 9th December 2014 • US •Type: Article • Topic: BC general


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