More states reporting high flu levels

More states reporting high flu levels
Friday, January 18, 2013 - 11:42am

Thirty states are now reporting high levels of flu-like illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is a slight uptick from last week's report.

All but two states are now reporting widespread flu activity, according to the CDC. "Widespread" means that more than 50% of geographic regions in a state -- counties, for example -- are reporting flu activity. It addresses the spread of the flu, not its severity.

The new report uses data collected by the CDC up through January 12.

The number of people being treated for the flu in outpatient facilities only increased 0.3%, according to the report, but hospitalizations for the elderly have gone up significantly.

Nine more pediatric deaths have also been reported, bringing the total since flu season began to 29. The CDC does not count the number of flu-related adult deaths.

Last week, the CDC reported a slight decline in flu levels, especially in the Southeast. We're about halfway through the typical 12-week flu season, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden told CNN on Monday, but the agency is not sure when it will peak.

"The only thing predictable about the flu is, it's unpredictable," Frieden told reporters.

Vaccination

Although the flu vaccine is far from perfect -- it's only about 62% effective this year -- it's the best prevention tool we have, Frieden said.

Approximately 37% of Americans had been vaccinated by mid-November, according to the CDC. That's about on track with what was seen at this time last year.

Despite reports of shortages of the flu shot, vaccine manufacturers told CNN last week that there is plenty available for those who want it. Frieden said earlier this week that additional vaccines are being made available.

Genentech, which makes the antiviral drug known as Tamiflu Oral Suppression, had reported temporary delays in new shipments, but is working with the FDA to release its reserve stock. The packaging on this reserve medication may appear different even though the drug is the same.

"With the addition of these reserve supplies, we anticipate having sufficient supply of Tamiflu capsules to meet demand for this flu season," a Genentech statement said.

Given within the first couple of days of infection, Tamiflu OS can ease flu symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. The drug is typically prescribed for children younger than 13 or for people who have trouble swallowing pills.

If you get the flu

The type of flu going around this year is called H3N2. People are more likely to get complications from this particular strain, which could make them ill for a longer period of time.

If you get the flu, don't panic, said Dr. David Zich, internal medicine and emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Most patients should not go to an emergency room. Just get plenty of rest and take painkillers to help with muscle aches, Zich said.

Symptoms typically last up to seven days for a normal flu infection.

There are scenarios in which going to a hospital is necessary. If a patient is short of breath or can't keep fluids down because of nausea, these are signs of a problem that needs immediate attention, Zich said. Excessive vomiting or sweating from fever can lead to dehydration, which is serious and requires treatment.

Very young children, seniors and people with underlying health conditions should also see their doctor, Frieden said. They are the populations most susceptible to serious illness. "Rapid treatment in the first 48 hours can make a big difference."

-- CNN's Miriam Falco and Jacque Wilson contributed to this report.

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