The flu season is at the midway point, and it’s shaping up to be a difficult one, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At a press conference Friday in Atlanta, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said the season has been particularly bad for people 65 and older.
Frieden also said that five more children have died since the CDC last reported figures, bringing the number of pediatric deaths up to 26 since the flu season began in the fall. The deaths, however, are believed to be higher due to delays in reporting.
Adult deaths are not tracked, but the CDC said that the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are vulnerable to this strain of the flu.
Frieden advises doctors to treat people who are sick with the flu with anti-viral medications. Anti-viral medications are dramatically under prescribed and could prevent thousands of hospitalizations and may even save people from death, he said.
But pediatrician Lisa Thebner cautions that “not everyone needs antivirals.” She said, “They are mostly recommended for those who are most at risk for complications,” meaning the very young or old.
Frieden said some doctors don’t think the medications work, but if given early, they help ease some of the symptoms of the flu.
The CDC had predicted the season would be a bad one after most of the samples taken from people with the flu tested positive for the H3N2 strain. That strain of virus is “nastier,” according to Frieden, and generally makes people sicker and results in more hospitalizations and deaths.
The CDC reports that most states are seeing widespread cases of flu. In states where the flu season started earlier, it may be slowing down, but there are still weeks of flu left. The flu season usually lasts into the spring.
With that in mind, Frieden suggests to go get a flu shot if you haven’t been vaccinated.
The flu shot this year is not a perfect match for the virus that mutated, but it is the best protection available for people and can lessen the severity of the illness.