FRIDAY, Dec. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Although winter hasn't even
arrived, the first signs of flu season have, U.S. health officials
In fact, Georgia is seeing a sharp increase in influenza cases,
mostly among school-aged children, with the state calling it a
regional outbreak. The Georgia cases may be an early sign of what's
in store for the rest of the country once flu season really gets
under way in the winter, officials from the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention said.
But there's good news, too: the flu strains circulating so far
seem to be a close match for this season's vaccine, experts said,
and next week has been designated by the CDC as National Influenza
"Flu is coming," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during an afternoon press conference. "This fall has begun like so many influenza seasons, with relatively few flu viruses circulating through the end of November."
However, last season's H1N1 flu pandemic was very different from
what is usually seen, she noted, and people shouldn't be complacent
because flu hasn't roared back yet.
Schuchat noted that this year's flu vaccine is designed to fight
the H1N1 pandemic strain, as well as strains H3N2 and influenza
In Georgia, influenza B is the strain that is being seen most
right now, Schuchat said. "The majority of B viruses from Georgia
are related to the B virus that is in our vaccine, so we expect the
vaccine to be a good match against this B strain that is already
causing quite a bit of disease," she said.
The vaccine is also a good match for the other flu strains seen
so far, including H1N1, H2N2 and the influenza B virus, officials
Schuchat believes that all Americans, except children under 6
months of age, should get a flu shot. "I strongly encourage people
to get vaccinated to make sure you're protected and to make sure
your children are protected too," she said.
Children under 9 years of age may need two doses of the vaccine
to be protected, Schuchat noted.
Many Americans may be heeding the CDC's vaccination advice this
year. "We are encouraged by the number of people who have already
received the flu vaccine," Schuchat said.
According to an agency survey, as of mid-November about a third
of Americans had already been immunized. Another 15 percent said
they planned to get vaccinated and 25 percent said they probably
would get vaccinated, Schuchat said. That's about the same as last
year, she added.
The highest proportion of people who have been vaccinated are
those 65 and older, with about 64 percent of vaccinations occurring
among seniors, according to the survey.
In other CDC surveys, the agency found that 56 percent of
health-care workers reported having gotten their flu shot. Another
7 percent plan to get vaccinated, Schuchat said.
Among pregnant women -- a group hit especially hard by H1N1 last
flu season -- 45 percent said they had already been vaccinated and
another 4 percent said they planned on getting the shot.
This year the vaccine is available at record levels, with more
than 160 million doses already distributed, Schuchat said.
Speaking at the news conference, Dr. Howard Koh, assistant
secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, said that "flu activity is increasing across the country.
If you've been thinking about getting vaccinated for influenza, now
is a good time to do so."
The flu is unpredictable and potentially deadly, so everyone
should get a flu shot, he added.
Koh noted that under the new Patient Protection and Affordable
Care Act, all new health insurance plans will cover flu shots, with
According to CDC estimates, approximately 5 percent to 20
percent of Americans get the flu each year, and more than 200,000
people are hospitalized for flu-related complications. From 1976 to
2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths ranged from a low of about
3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.
For more on flu, visit the
U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.