According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the 2014/15 flu season is especially bad, with about half of the US experiencing high flu activity. This is expected to increase over January and spread to states where flu has remained relatively less active. December to February is typically the worst time for flu cases in the US, with symptoms including neck pain and stiffness, sore throat, nausea, fever, chills, and fatigue causing many to stay away from work and school.
Unfortunately, the main flu strain this year was not all that active at the time the season’s vaccinations were prepared, meaning that the flu shot is not as effective as health authorities had hoped. The flu vaccination still affords good protection against the infection however, and antibodies formed after vaccination can have a crossover effect against other strains of the virus.
Influenza A (H3N2) viruses have been responsible for most cases of the flu so far, and these are associated with more severe illness and death, especially in older people and young children. In years when H1N1 or B viruses are more common, severe illness and death occur less frequently.
So far this season there has been an increasing rate of hospitalisation related to flu, especially in those over 65 years of age. Not only is it recommended to get vaccinated, it is also advised that those with high risk factors for flu are evaluated for possible treatment with antivirals should they develop flu symptoms.
A yearly flu vaccine is recommended to everyone over 6 months of age in order to protect oneself and to improve herd immunity for those vulnerable to infection who are unable to get the vaccine. Ideally, vaccinations should be administered by October so that people have antibodies ready for when flu season begins.
Other simple ways to reduce the risk of contracting the flu include avoiding those sick with the flu, washing hands to reduce the spread of germs, avoiding eating food prepared by those who are sick, and carrying hand sanitiser when using public transit.
People at high risk of flu include:
- Children younger than 2
- Adults 65 and older
- Pregnant women
- People with medical conditions
- People who are already sick
If symptoms of flu occur in these people antiviral drugs are usually recommended to decrease the likelihood of a serious infection taking hold. Antivirals work best when taken within 48 hours of getting sick, meaning that being tested for the flu early is important. This can be difficult when initial symptoms mirror simple neck pain from a muscle strain, or fatigue from a busy lifestyle.
The FDA has approved three influenza antiviral agents for the 2014-2015 influenza season: oseltamivir, zanamivir, and peramivir (trade name Rapivab®). The latter was approved on December 19, 2014, to treat adults over the age of 18.