The fall brings cooler weather, autumn colors and, unfortunately, thoughts of flu season. So far this year, the flu season seems to be off to a slow start.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report analyzing cases of influenza discovered across the country from May to September of this year and found case numbers to be low and similar to those seen in previous years.
CDC suggested that everyone aged 6 months or older receive a flu vaccination to avoid getting sick.
The report, led by Scott Epperson, MPH, of the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service, utilized data from the US influenza surveillance system, a collaboration of the CDC, federal, state, local and territorial partners. The system gathers information from a variety of sources across the US — including the World Health Organization (WHO) collaborating laboratories, the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System (NREVSS), and the US Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network (ILINet).
The report analyzed the presence of influenza A and influenza B. These two types of the flu virus cause seasonal epidemics across the US almost every winter, says CDC.
According to the report, between May 19 and September 2013, the US saw low overall levels of seasonal influenza activity. During this time, 52,150 respiratory samples were tested for the flu, and 2,013 (3.9 percent) tested positive.
"In the United States, similar levels of seasonal influenza viruses were detected compared with summer months of previous years (excluding the 2009 pandemic), and influenza A viruses were predominant," explained CDC.
The viruses were reported in 45 states across the US, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The southeastern US had the highest number of flu-positive samples (971), followed by the western states, which discovered 505 flu-positive samples.
Of the positive samples, 1,403 (70 percent) were found to be influenza A and 610 (30 percent) were found to be influenza B. Influenza B viruses were reported more frequently from late May until early June, and influenza A viruses were reported more frequently from mid-June to September.
The report also noted that during this time, the weekly percentage of outpatient healthcare visits for influenza-like illness was below the national baseline of 2.2 percent. Also, the percentage of deaths associated with influenza and pneumonia stayed below the threshold to be considered an epidemic.
"Annual influenza vaccination remains the best method for preventing influenza and its associated complications," reported CDC. "For optimal protection against seasonal influenza viruses, annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all persons aged 6 months or older each year, regardless of whether the vaccine virus strains have changed since the previous season."
"The flu is deadly for the most vulnerable, such as the elderly, babies, and people with cancer. The best way to prevent the flu is to vaccinate all of us so that us healthy people don't pass it along to the vulnerable," Aaron J. Michelfelder, MD, Professor of Family Medicine, Bioethics & Health Policy at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, told dailyRx News.
"When you get the flu, stay home and take care of yourself. Lots of fluids, rest and let it run its course. If you have anything other than cold symptoms such as high fevers or shortness of breath, then you should call your doctor," said Dr. Michelfelder. "The key is to let yourself get better before going back to work and spreading it to others!"
WHO's Collaborating Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Control of Influenza was involved in this study. No conflicts of interest were reported.