Flu Season Still Lagging, But Spreading

16May

The 2010-2011 influenza season continues to be off to a slow start. Although the number of cases of influenza is increasing every week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that nowhere in the United States has the disease reached an epidemic level.

The CDC classified 12 states as having “widespread” incidence of influenza during the reporting week that ended Jan. 28, the latest report available. They are Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia.

The National Flu Surveillance Network (NFSN), which is a private organization financed by ZymeTx — the manufacturer of an influenza diagnostic test — also collects data on the prevalence of influenza and uses a different system of classification.

Based on reports from some 3,000 cooperating physicians, the NFSN said that as of this week flu had reached what it defined as an epidemic level in 12 states.

Its list differed somewhat from that of the CDC: New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, California, Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Colorado.

However it is measured, the flu is spreading and experts on infectious diseases expect it to continue to spread, with the numbers affected peaking some time later this month or in March.

The CDC said it is still not too late to get protection from a shot of influenza vaccine, and urged that people in the following high risk groups who have not gotten one, do so right away:

People aged 65 and older.

Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities.

Adults and children aged 6 months and older who have chronic pulmonary or cardiovascular disease, including asthma.

Adults and children aged 6 months and older who have been treated or hospitalized during the past year for diabetes mellitus, kidney dysfunction, blood disorders or immune system problems or who have had chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Children and teen-agers 6 months to 18 years who receiving long-term aspirin therapy and therefore might be at risk.

The medical director of the March of Dimes, Donald Mattison, M.D., said it is particularly important for women who are in the second or third trimester of pregnancy — 14 weeks or longer — to be vaccinated against the flu, provided they are not allergic to eggs. The flu vaccine is cultured in chicken eggs. If they fall in any of the high risk groups, he said, women should be vaccinated in the first three months of pregnancy.

Mattison also urged that pregnant women who develop flu symptoms not take any over-the-counter (non-prescription) medication of any kind without checking first with their physicians. Some such products have been shown to be safe for use by pregnant women, but many have not.

Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) is among the products known to be safe. The March of Dimes has a Resource Center that will provide information on other medications.

This year’s flu vaccine continues to be well-designed to protect against the commonest strains of flu that are abroad this year. The CDC said laboratory analysis of virus specimens shows that both the Type A and the Type B strains so far identified are ones against which this year’s trivalent vaccine will be effective.

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