The hardest hit nationwide this flu season have been younger adults and those in their 40s and 50s, partly because fewer of them have been vaccinated, reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  Thursday.
An estimated 60 percent of U.S. deaths from influenza this season were in people 24 to 64 years old, compared with 18 percent last season, the CDC said. Influenza, or the flu, is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B viruses. The flu virus attacks the body by spreading through the upper and/or lower respiratory tract.
People ages 18 to 64 have represented about 61 percent of all hospitalizations due to the flu, up from about 35 percent in the three prior seasons, the CDC said. The federal agency said Thursday that flu activity is “still elevated.” This flu season began last fall and is expected to last a few more weeks.
H1N1 is Dominant
This season’s dominant flu strain is the H1N1 virus, the same one that struck in 2009, the CDC said. This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu,” because lab tests found genes in the virus that were similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs (swine) in North America.
“We’re seeing more H1N1 this year and more people getting the flu in their 40s and 50s, and even in their 30s,” said Barbara Russell, R.N., director of Infection Prevention and Control Services for Baptist Hospital.
Older people may have stronger immunity to H1N1 due to past exposure to the virus, CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a press conference.
“Vaccination every season is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself,” Mr. Frieden said.
The takeaway from its report, the CDC says, is that adults of all ages should receive a flu vaccination.
And it’s not too late.
Vaccines More Effective This Year
U.S. health officials say they are encouraged by the results of this year’s vaccine effectiveness. Getting vaccinated has reduced a person’s chances of getting the flu by 61 percent, compared with 52 percent last year, the CDC said.
“No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but it’s important that people get their flu vaccines,” Ms. Russell said. “Remember, it takes a couple of weeks for the shot to take effect, so the sooner the better. It’s not too late in the season.”
If you have flu symptoms, see your doctor or visit an urgent care center. Your doctor will take a sample from the back of your nose or throat with a swab. This test to diagnose the flu only take a few minutes to analyze.
Physicians can order a “respiratory pathogen panel” to determine if a patient is carrying the H1N1 strain, Russell said.
People who have swine flu can be contagious one day before they have any symptoms and as many as seven days after they get sick. Children can be contagious for as long as 10 days.
Most symptoms for H1N1 are the same as seasonal flu. They can include:
Influenza can lead to more serious complications, including pneumonia and respiratory failure. And it can make existing conditions, such as diabetes or asthma, even worse. If you have symptoms such as shortness of breath, severe vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, or confusion, call your doctor or 911 right away.