On Friday, January 18, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) issued an updated report on the Flu Epidemic that is sweeping the nation, reporting on new data collected through the week ended January 12, 2013.
While the number of new flu cases may be tapering off nationwide, many states are still seeing high levels of flu activity. Older people are experiencing the highest levels of hospitalizations, and are at the greatest risk of complications if they catch the flu, both the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services report.
New Cases of Flu Tapering Off
The good news is that the number of newly diagnosed cases of the flu nationwide, appears to be tapering off, as illustrated by the CDC’s graph at right. “Nationally, the percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza in the United States during the week of January 6-12 decreased from 34% in the previous week to 29.4%,” the CDC reported on Friday.
In addition, “The proportion of people seeing their health care provider for influenza-like illness (ILI) decreased from 4.8% in the previous week to 4.6% for the week of January 6-12 but remains above the national baseline for the sixth consecutive week,” the CDC reported.
Severity of Cases High & Affecting Seniors Most
Nevertheless, “indicators that reflect severity are now rising,” according to the CDC’s new report. “It’s typical for severity indicators to lag a few weeks behind early activity indicators,” the CDC explained in a summary of its new report issued on Friday.
“This week, a high proportion of influenza-associated hospitalizations and deaths are occurring in people 65 and older,” the CDC reported. This is typical of the type of flu that predominates this season, the CDC explained. “Seasons when H3N2 viruses are predominant tend to be associated with greater severity in terms of more hospitalizations and deaths.”
“Influenza-associated hospitalization rates continue to be highest among people 65 and older. Of the 5,249 influenza-associated hospitalizations that have been reported this season, 49.6% have been among people 65 and older,” the CDC’s report stated.
In addition, “The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) based on the 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System increased sharply; remaining above the epidemic threshold for the second consecutive week.”
On its website, Flu.gov, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), explains why seniors are at greater risk than others if they catch the flu: “As you age, your immune system weakens. This weakening makes seniors—adults 65 years and older— more susceptible to the flu. For seniors, the seasonal flu can be very serious, even deadly. Ninety percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older.”
In a video released by HHS (right), Bruce Gellin, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the National Vaccine Program Office at HHS, explains why people over age 65 are at greater risk.
Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, Director of the CDC and the nation’s top federal disease-control official, advised in an interview with the New York Times on Friday that the elderly should avoid contact with sick children. The immune systems of the elderly generally are weaker than those of younger people, and among those elderly people who do contract the flu, the death rates are high, Dr. Frieden explained.
“Having a grandparent baby-sit a sick child may not be a good idea,” he said.
See additional advice from the CDC and HHS on flu prevention and caring for a sick person (below).
Flu Still Spreading Across the Nation
While the number of new flu cases diagnosed nationally may have peaked and appears to be tapering off, some states are seeing an increase in flu activity from last week, as the epidemic appears in general to be moving West geographically.
“Thirty states and New York City are now reporting high ILI [influenza-like illness] activity; an increase from 24 states last week,” the CDC said on Friday.
The following two CDC maps reflect the geographic dispersal of high flu activity (states in red), moderate flu activity (states in orange or yellow), and lower flu activity (states in green) during the week ended January 12, 2013 and during the previous week ended January 5, 2013:
The CDC has advised on a number of common sense actions you can take to help prevent getting and spreading the flu. See: CDC Advises on Flu Prevention; Reports on Flu Epidemic Sweeping Nation
In addition the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), on its website Flu.gov, advises:
Following are every day steps you can take to help prevent the flu and minimize its spread, as advised by HHS:
- “Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Practice good health habits. Get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat healthy food.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.”
If You Are Caring for Someone With the Flu
HHS has published a short video, advising on steps you can take to protect yourself and help prevent spread of the flu is you are caring for someone with influenza:
HHS offers the following key pointers to those caring for someone sick with the flu:
Get immediate medical care if the sick person experiences:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Purple or blue discoloration of the lips
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough”
In addition, HHS provides the following more detailed advice to caregivers for those ill with the flu:
Take these additional steps to protect yourself and people in your home from getting the flu.
- You and all healthy people in the house should clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub frequently, including after every contact with the sick person, the sick person’s room or bathroom, or items used or touched by the sick person.
- Remind the sick person to cover coughs and clean his or her hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub often, especially after coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid being face-to-face with the sick person and, if possible, have only one adult in the home take care of the sick person. People at increased risk of severe illness from flu should not care for the sick person.
- Hold small children who are sick with their chin on your shoulder so that they will not cough in your face.
- Ask your healthcare provider if well people in your home—particularly those contacts who are at increased risk of severe illness—should take antiviral medications to prevent getting the flu.
- Maintain good ventilation in shared household areas (keep windows open in restrooms, kitchen, bathroom, etc.).
- Follow proper cleaning and disposal procedures:
- Throw the sick person’s tissues and other used disposable items in the trash.
- Keep surfaces clean (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, doorknobs, phones, and children’s toys) by wiping them down with an approved household disinfectant.
- Clean linens, eating utensils, and dishes used by the sick person thoroughly before reusing. You do not need to wash items separately.
- Wash linens (such as bed sheets and towels) with laundry soap and tumble dry on a hot setting. Avoid “hugging” laundry to your body before washing it to prevent contaminating yourself.”
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