CDC recommends rapid antiviral use in suspected flu patients

This year’s flu vaccine is less protective than most years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. They recommend that doctors begin treating suspected flu patients with antiviral drugs immediately, even before tests confirm an infection.

The vaccine reduces the risk of having to go to the doctor by only 23 percent, the CDC reported. Since they began tracking that statistic in 2004-2005, health officials have found flu shot protection in any given flu season ranges from 10 percent to 60 percent.

The viruses targeted by each year’s flu vaccine are picked months before flu actually hits. This year, in those intervening months, the flu virus mutated significantly, health officials said. But the CDC still recommends a flu shot for those who haven’t yet gotten one, saying some protection is better than none.

The vaccine is most protective in children — which is important since children have been hard-hit this flu season. In Texas since December, six children have died of flu. This year’s vaccine reduces a child’s risk of having to go to the doctor by 26 percent. That dropped to 12 percent for those ages 18 to 49 years, and 14 percent for those over age 50.

The major flu strain circulating this year is an A/H3N2 type virus, although some B/type flu viruses also have been detected.

At University Health System, for the week ending Jan. 10, 89 patients ranging in age from 6 months to 85 years had laboratory-confirmed H3N2 flu. Another eight patients ages 10 to 82 were infected with the B strain, according to the Health System’s virology lab. It was the highest number of flu patients here since the season began.

“Physicians should be aware that all hospitalized patients and all outpatients at high risk for serious complications should be treated as soon as possible with one of three available influenza antiviral medications if influenza is suspected, regardless of a patient’s vaccination status and without waiting for confirmatory testing,” said Joe Bresee, branch chief of CDC’s Influenza Division, in a statement. “Health care providers should advise patients at high risk to call promptly if they get symptoms of influenza.”

Photo courtesy CDC