Start of flu season earliest in decade, according to CDC

Nurse Rob Freitas administers a flu shot to Laverne Brown at the Georgia Health Sciences University Family Medicine Clinic.

ATLANTA — This is the earliest start to the flu season in nearly a decade, and that could indicate a more severe season, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today.

The number of people reporting to clinics with flu-like illness reached the threshold that makes it likely flu is in their communities earlier than any time since 2003-04, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said. That was also a severe flu season, which could have implications for this season because the predominant strain so far is an influenza A H3N2, which typically results in more severe flu seasons, Frieden said.

“It looks like it is shaping up to be a bad flu season, but only time will tell,” he said.

Flu season typically gets going after the New Year, with peaks in January and February, said Dr. Melinda Wharton, the acting director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC.

South Carolina is among four states already experiencing widespread flu status, the highest level. Georgia is one of two states seeing moderate levels of flu-like illness.

The good news is higher vaccination rates, particularly among health care workers – 80-90 percent of pharmacists, doctors and nurses have already been vaccinated – Frieden said. An estimated 123 million doses of flu vaccine has already been shipped out, and the CDC estimated that 112 million have been given this year.

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