2012 Flu Outlook: Unpredictable Season, but Plenty of Vaccine Available

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Public health officials and medical experts practiced what they preach by getting vaccinated against influenza during a National Foundation for Infectious Diseases’ (NFID) news conference today. Urging the public to follow suit, experts cautioned that influenza is unpredictable and that last year’s mild season is not necessarily an indication of what can be expected in 2012-2013 and, even during mild seasons, flu takes a serious toll.

Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Howard K. Koh, M.D., announced the latest influenza vaccination coverage rates among children and adults, which reinforced the need for ongoing, collaborative efforts to improve influenza immunization.

“I urge everyone to join me and get a flu vaccine this year,” said Dr. Koh, who was the first to receive his flu vaccine during the news conference, held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He was joined by leaders from the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Pharmacists Association, AARP, National Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NFID, in partnership with the National Influenza Vaccine Summit, and called on everyone 6 months of age and older to follow CDC’s universal recommendation by getting vaccinated against influenza each year.

According to the CDC data, which was published in today’s issue of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, influenza vaccination rates remained steady with an estimated 128 million people, or about 42 percent of the U.S. population receiving the influenza vaccine during the 2011-2012 season. However, rates varied widely between age groups and among states.

“The past three years have demonstrated that influenza is predictably unpredictable,” Dr. Koh added. “When it comes to flu, we can’t look to the past to predict the future. Stay healthy — get vaccinated!”

More than 85 million doses of influenza vaccine have been distributed as of September 14. Manufacturers project that about 135 million doses of influenza vaccine will be available this season in doctors’ offices, public health clinics, pharmacies, retail stores, and other venues.

“In this election year, there are many important national health issues that are up for debate, but this is one that’s easy to agree on,” said William Schaffner, M.D., immediate past-president of NFID and chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who led the news conference. “We should all be voting ‘yes’ for influenza and pneumococcal prevention. It is every individual’s responsibility to put prevention to good use and make vaccination part of their routine healthcare.”

2012-2013 Influenza Outlook

The seasonal influenza vaccine protects against the three viral strains most likely to cause the flu in the upcoming year. This year’s seasonal influenza vaccine has one strain in common with last year’s vaccine, A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus, plus two new viral strains, A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus and B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus.

Four influenza vaccine options are available to meet the needs of various populations: a nasal spray; the traditional intramuscular injected vaccine; a high-dose injection for people age 65 years and older; and an intradermal vaccine that features a smaller needle.

While vaccination is the first line of defense against influenza, at the news conference, CDC outlined its three-step approach to fighting influenza. Vaccination is the first and most important step, coupled with everyday preventive actions such as good hand and cough hygiene. For those who do get infected, appropriate use of influenza antiviral drugs can help reduce the risk of serious complications from the infection. CDC recommends either oseltamivir or zanamivir for treatment and prevention of influenza.

Additional information is available at: nfid.org/leadingbyexample..

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