CDC Director: The truth about the flu

Governments may shut down, but the flu virus doesn’t. The U.S. is in the midst of a severe flu season, and CDC’s tracking data shows flu cases are still increasing across the country. Our research also reveals that most of the nation is currently experiencing widespread and intense flu activity.

To date, we have lost 30 children nationwide to flu-related deaths – including 10 more reports in just the past week. Adult flu cases are not a reportable disease in most states – meaning we do not yet have accurate adult death numbers. But just in North Carolina, where flu is a reportable disease, they have already had 42 deaths, many of them in people who were previously healthy. These are heartbreaking statistics.

Here is what everyone should do whether you have had the flu shot or not: 

·        Germs often transfer when you touch something contaminated, then touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Avoid this.

·        Wash your hands frequently. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

·        Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs, including flu.

·        Limit contact with those who are sick. If you are caring for someone who is sick, try to identify one primary caregiver to limit transmission.

·        We continue to recommend the flu vaccine. While our flu vaccines are far from perfect, they are the best way to prevent getting sick from flu – and it’s not too late to get one.

All of these precautionary steps can help reduce the risk of spreading infection – and that’s crucial during this active flu season, when what might make you miserable for a few days could prove deadly for someone else.

If you or a loved one are already sick with flu:

·        Stay home when you are sick and don’t touch the same items or use the same utensils as healthy people. 

·        Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze to help save those around you from getting sick.

·        Call your doctor about the best treatment. That’s even more important if those infected are at higher risk for developing flu-related complications, such as young children, pregnant women, or people with chronic conditions such as diabetes. 

If you work as a health care professional, you should always practice good infection control when caring for patients with suspected or confirmed influenza, including the use of face-masks, hand washing, and getting your own flu shot so you don’t spread flu or get sick yourself.

All of these precautionary steps can help reduce the risk of spreading infection – and that’s crucial during this active flu season, when what might make you miserable for a few days could prove deadly for someone else.

Influenza A H3N2 has been the most common this season. These viruses are often linked to more severe illness, especially among children and people age 65 and older. Our statistics so far also show increased risk of infection in those people 50 and older.

When H3 viruses are predominant, we tend to have worse flu seasons, with more hospitalizations and deaths. We don’t yet know the total effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine against the strain of H3N2 circulating this year. Even so, we know there is increased protection from the flu shot so please get one.

Someday, we hope to have a universal flu vaccine available, one that prevents infection from all influenza viruses and provides protection that lasts for years. But until that day arrives, we must take common sense measures to protect ourselves and take the yearly flu vaccine for the protection it can offer. We will continue to improve the vaccines that we have, and find ways and tools to help Americans reduce their risk of getting sick. 

Brenda Fitzgerald is the Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.