Flu activity has increased sharply in the United States in recent weeks, with widespread activity reported in 49 states in the last CDC FluView report. While flu vaccination is the most important way to prevent influenza, antiviral drugs are the most important way to treat influenza infection. Studies have shown that early treatment with a flu antiviral drug can shorten the duration of fever and illness symptoms, and can reduce the risk of serious flu complications.
CDC recommends these drugs be used as soon as possible in people who are severely ill or people who are at high risk of serious flu complications who develop flu symptoms.
For people with an age or medical factor that puts them at high-risk of serious flu complications, prompt treatment with a flu antiviral drug can mean the difference between having a milder illness and a stay in the hospital.
At this time vaccination to prevent future cases of influenza is still a good idea. There are likely weeks of flu activity to come during the current flu season so vaccination can still offer important protection. While influenza A(H3N2) viruses have been most common to date, it is not unusual for different flu viruses to circulate at different times of the season and most flu vaccines protect against four different influenza viruses.
Take 3 Steps to Fight Flu
1. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
- People who are at high risk for influenza complications should contact a health care professional promptly if they get flu symptoms, even if they have been vaccinated this season.
- If you get sick with flu, antiviral drugs can be used to treat your illness.
- CDC recommends rapid treatment of seriously ill and high-risk flu patients with antiviral drugs.
- It is very important that antiviral drugs are used early to treat hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness, and people who are at high risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health.
2. Take every day preventative actions to help prevent the spread of germs.
- If possible, try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you do get sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Also, clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like flu.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth because germs spread this way. Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
3. If you have not gotten a flu vaccine yet this season, get vaccinated now – it’s not too late!
- As long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue throughout flu season, even in January or later.
- Everyone 6 months of age and older is recommended to get vaccinated against flu every year, with rare exceptions.
- Flu vaccine is used to prevent flu illness, not treat it.
- Flu vaccines protect against three or four different flu viruses.
- It takes two weeks after vaccination for the immune system to fully respond and for these antibodies to provide protection.
- With many more weeks of flu activity expected for this flu season, there is still time to get vaccinated if you haven’t already done so. As long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination can protect you against flu.
- Important reminder for parents and caregivers: Some children 6 months through 8 years of age will require two doses of flu vaccine for adequate protection from flu. Children in this age group who are getting vaccinated for the first time will need two doses of flu vaccine, spaced at least 28 days apart. Some children who have received flu vaccine previously also may need two doses. Your child’s doctor or other health care personnel can tell you if your child needs two doses.
- CDC typically conducts studies throughout the influenza season to help determine how well flu vaccines are working. While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies by CDC researchers and other experts indicate that flu vaccination reduces the risk of influenza illness by 30% to 60% among the overall population when the vaccine viruses are like the ones spreading in the community.
Some people are at greater risk for flu complications, like young children and adults 65 years and older.
Who Is at Risk?
Everyone is at risk for getting flu. While the numbers vary, in the United States, millions of people are sickened, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands to tens of thousands of people die from flu every year. CDC estimates that influenza has resulted in between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations, and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually since 2010.
Some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications like pneumonia or worsening of existing chronic health conditions. For those at high risk for complications, it’s especially important to get vaccinated every season. It’s also important for those people to check with a doctor promptly about taking antivirals if they get flu symptoms. Some of the people at high risk include the following:
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- People 65 years and older
- Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
And people who have medical conditions including:
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions (including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy [seizure disorders], stroke, intellectual disability, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury)
- Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
- People with extreme obesity (Body Mass Index [BMI] of 40 or greater)
- For a full list of high-risk medical conditions, visit People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications.
It’s especially important that people in these high risk groups get vaccinated, but it’s also very important that people in these groups get medical attention quickly if they develop flu symptoms.
For more information about the seriousness of flu and the benefits of flu vaccine and treatment, talk to your family’s doctor or visit the CDC Flu Website.