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Flu Hits 'Epidemic' Levels in US: CDC

By    |   Tuesday, 30 Dec 2014 11:40 AM

Influenza levels in the U.S. have hit “epidemic” levels and are continuing to rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The proportion of deaths reported in 122 American cities from flu and pneumonia has surpassed the typical level for late December (6.8 percent) — the “epidemic threshold” set by the federal health agency. In addition, 22 states are reporting “high” numbers of influenza-like illnesses — up from 13 last week.
 
The announcement means that the nation as a whole is experiencing widespread flu activity, with nearly all regions of the U.S. affected. Key details included in the new CDC flu report:
 
Cases: Of 21,858 suspected cases of flu analyzed, more than 28 percent (6,152) tested positive for influenza.
 
Deaths: The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (6.8 percent) was at the “epidemic threshold,” with at least four flu-related child deaths.
 
Hospitalizations: The rate of flu-related hospitalizations is also up — with nearly 10 laboratory-confirmed cases reported per 100,000 people.
 
Outpatient illnesses: The proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness was 5.5 percent — above the national baseline of 2 percent — with all regions of the U.S. reporting high levels.
 
Flu activity: Influenza is highest in 36 states
 
One reason the flu season is particularly bad this year is that this year's flu shot doesn't match the major strain that's causing the majority of cases spreading across America.
 
A mutated version of the influenza A (H3N2) component that's contained in this year's flu shot is the most common strain that's currently circulating. But since the genetic makeup of the strain has changed since this season's vaccine was formulated, this year’s vaccine will do even less than usual to offer protection against flu.
 
There are many strains of flu virus and they are constantly mutating. CDC scientists decide early in the year which strains they believe will be the prominent strain in the coming flu season. Those educated guesses are what inform the annual formulations of flu vaccines — three in the traditional flu vaccine, and four in the new quadrivalent vaccine, which protects against four strains of flu virus.
 
The CDC has warned that the H3N2 strain that's circulating is linked to flu that's more severe than usual, and results in more hospitalizations and deaths. But the agency still urges nearly all Americans over the age of 6 months get the shot, particularly seniors, children, and those with chronic health conditions who are most at risk for flu complications.
 
Health officials are also recommending people who catch the flu to ask their doctor for an antiviral, such as Tamiflu. But such antivirals do little to lessen the duration or severity of flu and can pose a risk for side effects — including gastro-intestinal distress and, in rare cases, even suicidal thoughts — according to the Food and Drug Administration.
 
To reduce your risk of catching the flu, health experts recommend the following strategies:
 
Take care, if traveling. Pack sanitizer wipes to clean airplane tray tables, bathroom surfaces, anything else touch. Keep hands away from face and eyes, to avoid spreading germs.
 
Sit at front of the plane. Ventilation is best in the seats closer to the front of the plane. Opening the air vent "gaspers" overhead as much as possible can also improve circulation.
 
Ask to move your seat. If someone near you is coughing, ask to change your seat. Avoid those courtesy pillows and blankets, which can be loaded with germs. Bring a mask to wear if you think someone near you is sick.
 
Boost your immune system. Make sure to stay active, exercise, eat well, get plenty of rest, and keep your stress levels as low as possible to keep your immune system functioning well. Some supplements and herbal remedies — including Echinacea, zinc, and ginseng — have been shown to boost the immune system.
 
Limit close contact. Think twice about hugging and kissing family members and close friends, if you’re feeling under the weather.
 
Wash your hands frequently. Fastidious hand-washing or the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers can knock down the spread of cold and flu germs.

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Flu levels in the U.S. have hit "epidemic" levels and are continuing to rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
flu, epidemic, cdc
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2014-40-30
Tuesday, 30 Dec 2014 11:40 AM
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