Flu Outbreaks Indicate Severe Season, Health Officials Say
Early and "intense" outbreaks of influenza in the United States and a "nasty strain of the flu virus" not included in this year's vaccine has prompted health officials to warn of the possibility of "one of the worst flu seasons in years," the Washington Post reports. Ten states already have reported "widespread" infections, and nine additional states have reported regional outbreaks, the Post reports (Stein, Washington Post, 12/4). Dr. Tim Uyeki, a flu specialist at the CDC, said, "[E]arly indications are that this is a more severe season" (Wahlberg, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/5). Colorado and Texas have "borne the brunt" of the outbreaks, with Colorado reporting 6,306 confirmed infections, nearly three times the number reported for all of last year's flu season, the Los Angeles Times reports. Further, at least seven children, ages 21 months to 15 years old, have died from the flu this year, compared with two children in typical flu seasons. In Texas, at least three children and one adult have died of flu-related illnesses (Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 12/5). Dr. Scott Harper, an infectious disease specialist with the Influenza Branch of the CDC, said that more than 80% of flu infections so far have been identified as the Fujian strain of the virus (Ricks, Long Island Newsday, 12/4). The Fujian strain, which is not one of three strains included in this year's vaccine, has been linked to higher rates of serious illness that require hospitalization. CDC Director Julie Gerberding has said that the flu vaccine still should be somewhat effective because the Fujian strain is similar to one included in the vaccine. Typically, 10% to 20% of U.S. adults each year become infected with the flu, leading to about 114,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths (American Health Line, 12/1). Lynnette Brammer, an epidemiologist with the CDC's Influenza Branch, said the flu "does seem to be affecting children more than old people" this year, but officials are not sure why. Dr. Klaus Stor, head of the World Health Organization's Influenza Program, said that children are "immunologically naïve [and] unprotected" because they have been exposed to fewer flu viruses in the past few years because of mild winters (Carter, Washington Times, 12/5).
The following broadcast programs reported on the flu season:
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight": The segment includes comments from Dr. Ned Calonge of the Colorado Department of Public Health, Dr. Eric France of Kaiser Permanente and Harper (Redeker, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 12/4).
- CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from Dr. Andrew Campbell of Mount Sinai Hospital and Harper (Kaledin, "Evening News," CBS, 12/4). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": NPR's Renee Montagne interviews Harper (Montagne, "Morning Edition," NPR, 12/5). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "Talk of the Nation/Science Friday": NPR's Ira Flatow interviews Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Flatow, "Talk of the Nation/Science Friday," NPR, 12/5). The full segment will be available online after 6 p.m. ET.