Flu ‘picking up speed’ in US as health officials brace for potentially tough season


US health officials are growing increasingly concerned about this year’s flu season – and are already seeing signs of the virus spreading.

As the 2022-2023 flu season begins, a California high school is dealing with a “high number of absences” among students due to possible cases of the flu. Influenza activity in the United States often begins to increase in October and usually peaks between December and February.

“We can confirm that there is a high number of absences at Henry High School due to probable influenza,” San Diego Unified School District spokesperson Samer Naji said in an email Thursday. CNN. There were around 1,000 absences on Wednesday, out of 2,600 students.

“So far COVID tests have been negative, but several students have tested positive for the flu,” Naji said. “Typical signs and symptoms include cough, sore throat, runny nose, fever and other upper respiratory infection symptoms. We are in close contact with San Diego County Public Health.

San Diego County Public Health Services confirmed to CNN that he was investigate the great epidemic respiratory and flu-like symptoms among students at Patrick Henry High School — as well as Del Norte High School in Poway, California.

“Del Norte High School (in the Poway Unified School District) had nearly 400 students absent yesterday and Tuesday with cold and flu symptoms,” Christine Paik, spokesperson for the Unified School District, told CNN on Wednesday. of Poway. “Health officials have told us cold/flu season is definitely here and it’s hitting schools harder now that COVID restrictions are no longer in place.”

San Diego County Public Health Services announced Wednesday that “it is too early” to determine the cause of the outbreaks and that the county is evaluating.

“We are coordinating with local school districts and checking in with other school campuses to try to understand why so many students have been affected so suddenly,” Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s deputy public health officer, said Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, we anticipated this would be a tough flu season, and alongside COVID-19, other respiratory viruses are also making a rapid comeback,” Kaiser said. “If you haven’t already, now is the time to get your flu and COVID-19 shots to get the extra protections offered by vaccines.”

An early increase in seasonal influenza activity has been reported across most of the United States, with the southeast and south-central regions of the country reporting the highest levels of influenza, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than a thousand patients were hospitalized with the flu this week, the agency said.

“Nationally, the percentage of specimens testing positive for influenza in clinical laboratories is increasing; however, activity varies by region,” the CDC researchers wrote in the agency’s latest weekly flu report, released Friday.

Although current influenza activity is still low overall, the The CDC report finds that activity is increasing across most of the country, with three jurisdictions experiencing moderate activity and six jurisdictions experiencing high or very high activity.

This week, 3.3% of respiratory samples sent to clinical laboratories tested positive for influenza, according to the new report. That’s a jump from the 0.1% of samples that tested positive this time last year and the 0.2% of samples that tested positive this time in 2020.

However, the new data suggests the country could return to pre-Covid flu levels, as at this time in 2019, 3.1% of samples were reported as flu positive.

The new CDC report also says 1,322 patients were admitted to hospitals with influenza this week and there were three childhood deaths this week associated with influenza.

Overall, the most commonly reported influenza viruses this week were influenza A(H3N2), according to the report, and 2.6% of outpatient visits to health care providers were for respiratory illnesses that included symptoms such as fever plus cough or sore throat. This is above the national benchmark, which is 2.5%.

“An annual flu shot is the best way to protect against the flu. Vaccination helps prevent infection and can also prevent serious consequences in people who get vaccinated but still get the flu,” according to the report.

“The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot, ideally by the end of October. There are also prescription flu antiviral medications that can be used to treat the flu; those these should be started as soon as possible.

Predicting what flu activity might look like in any given year can be tricky, but doctors are preparing for a “very important” flu season, said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Vanderbilt Division of Infectious Diseases. University Medical Center and Medical Director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

“I fear we will have a very important flu season this year, very different from our previous two seasons,” he said.

Signs of increased influenza activity were first seen in the Southern Hemisphere this summer, and as more people in the Northern Hemisphere ease Covid-19 restrictions and return to maskless socializing and in large crowds, cases of influenza are reported. The widespread number of cases so early in the flu season is unusual.

“Here we are in mid-October – not mid-November – we are already seeing scattered flu cases, even hospitalized flu cases, across the country,” said Schaffner, whose medical center at the Vanderbilt University is part of a surveillance network that tracks hospitalized influenza cases.

“So we know that this virus is already spreading in the community. It’s already picking up speed. Seems to me like about a month ahead,” Schaffner said.

When people began self-isolating, social distancing, and masking to slow the spread of Covid-19 in early 2020, the flu all but disappeared in the United States. As a result, most people have not been exposed to influenza for a few years, which means immunity to influenza viruses could be low and underscore the need for vaccination.

U.S. health officials are encouraging people to get their flu shot as soon as possible, said Adriane Casalotti, chief government and public affairs officer for the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

“There is definitely a push now to get flu shots high on people’s priority lists. We are all worried, having seen what is happening in the southern hemisphere, in Australia, that this year’s flu season could be really, really tough, frankly,” Casalotti said.

Concern has grown as officials also brace for possible outbreaks this winter of Covid-19 and other common respiratory viruses, such as respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, one of the leading causes of lower respiratory tract infection in infants and young children.

Casalotti said the spread of influenza can have significant effects on communities, especially since it can be difficult to distinguish flu symptoms from those of Covid-19, colds or allergies.

“We’re already starting to see in some areas that the flu is circulating,” Casalotti said. “Overall, influenza activity is low nationwide, but it is starting to increase in the southeast in particular.”

In August, as concern about the upcoming flu season grew, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Immunization Practices Advisory Committee released a report updating its recommendations for the seasonal flu vaccine for this year.

Typically, older adults get a higher dose of the flu shot than younger adults, but in the latest update, the ACIP recommended that adults 65 and older “receive preferentially” a higher dose or an adjuvanted flu vaccine.

“There are three of the flu vaccines that have been shown to be most effective in people age 65 and older,” said Schaffner, who is an ACIP liaison representative. “There’s the high-dose vaccine, there’s another one that has an adjuvant – an immune booster – and the third one is a recombinant vaccine.” Recombinant influenza vaccines do not involve the flu virus or chicken eggs in the manufacturing process.

“If you look at people aged 65 and over in previous seasons, already 80% of them received one of these three vaccines,” he said. “New this year is that the ACIP has made a clearly preferential recommendation. They actually said that if you are vaccinating people aged 65 and over, preferably use one of these three vaccines, and only if one of them is not available, use the regular vaccine.

Overall, the CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get their annual flu shot, especially those who may be pregnant — because the vaccine provides protection not just for them but for their baby. , Schaffner said.

“There’s an added benefit,” he said. “Namely, the antibodies created in response to the vaccine, some of which cross the placenta and enter the newborn. So the newborn gets some of that protection in the first four to six months of life, before we can actively vaccinate the baby.

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