In contrast to last years late-arriving and mild flu season, the upcoming season could be early and severe, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.
“Were seeing the beginning of the uptick start at least a month before wed generally see it,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH.
“That suggests this could be a bad flu year,” Frieden added.
The dominant flu subtype so far this year is H3N2, which generally causes more severe illness. It was prevalent in 2003-04, which was considered a harsh flu season, Frieden said. The good news, he said, is the flu vaccine on the market is a “great match” for the circulating strains. About 112 million people already have been vaccinated, according to CDC figures.
Among nurses, physicians and pharmacists, about 80% to 90% have been vaccinated, Frieden said. About half of all pregnant women have been vaccinated, and the number of children receiving the vaccination has increased. All people ages 6 months and older should receive the vaccine each year, the CDC advises.
Melinda Wharton, MD, acting director of the CDCs National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas have had the highest level of flu activity. Missouri and Georgia have had noteworthy levels as well, and activity is picking up around the country.
More on healthcare personnel vaccination
Flu vaccination coverage among healthcare personnel has improved, but remains below the national Healthy People 2020 target of 90%. In 2008, vaccination coverage among healthcare personnel was 49%. It increased to 58-63% in 2009-10, 56-64% in 2010-11 and 62-67% in 2011-12.
According to a CDC survey, early-season 2012-13 flu vaccination among healthcare personnel was similar to last years rate, 62.9% vs. 63.4%.
By occupation, flu vaccination was highest among pharmacists (88.7%), physicians (83.8%), nurses (81.5%) nurse practitioners/physician assistants (73.3%) and other clinical professionals (76.7%). Flu vaccination was lowest among assistants or aides (43.4%) and administrative/non-clinical support staff (54.5%).
By work setting, flu vaccination coverage was highest among healthcare personnel working in hospitals (83.4%). Flu vaccination was lowest among healthcare personnel working in long-term care facilities (48.7%).
Among unvaccinated healthcare personnel who did not intend to get the flu vaccination, the most common main reason reported for not getting vaccinated was that they do not want vaccination. The next most common main reason was the belief that the vaccination was ineffective.
“Educating HCP, especially assistants or aides and non-clinical staff, and HCP working in long-term care facilities about the importance, effectiveness and safety of annual flu vaccination may increase overall vaccination coverage,” according to the report.
The full survey is available at www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/hcp-ips-nov2012.htm.