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Deaths from flu, pneumonia remain above epidemic threshold

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Though this year's vaccine did not anticipate all the strains of flu circulating, it is still valuable, says the CDC. Though this year's vaccine did not anticipate all the strains of flu circulating, it is still valuable, says the CDC.

According to recent updates by the Centers for Disease Control, during week 8 (February 17 - 23, 2008), influenza activity decreased slightly in the United States. However, deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza are above the epidemic threshold for the seventh consecutive week.

  • Two thousand three hundred twenty-one (30.0%) specimens tested by U.S. World Health Organization (WHO) and National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System (NREVSS) collaborating laboratories were positive for influenza.
  • The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza was above the epidemic threshold for the seventh consecutive week.
  • The proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) and acute respiratory illness (ARI) was above national baseline levels. ILI decreased in seven of the nine regions compared to week 7, and was above region-specific baselines in all nine regions. The East South Central, Mid-Atlantic, Mountain, New England, Pacific, South Atlantic and West North Central regions reported ARI at or above their region specific baselines.
  • Forty-nine states reported widespread influenza activity; one state reported regional influenza activity; and the District of Columbia reported local influenza activity.

The CDC recently issued the following alert advising doctors and the public at large of the importance of using antiviral drugs for the treatment or prevention of flu:

This is an official
CDC HEALTH ADVISORY


"Recent surveillance data indicate that many communities are reporting substantially increased influenza activity. This CDC Health Advisory is intended to re-emphasize the importance of considering antiviral medications for use in the treatment or prevention of influenza.  The two prescription antiviral medications recommended for treatment or prevention of influenza include oseltamivir (Tamiflu┬«, Roche Laboratories, Nutley, NJ) or zanamivir (Relenza┬«, GlaxoSmithKline, Research Triangle Park, NC). These antiviral medications are also known as neuraminidase inhibitors. Recent studies suggest a considerable protective effect against complications associated with influenza when neuraminidase inhibitors are used for treatment. These benefits include reducing the risk of death among older adults hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza. Because high levels of resistance to adamantane antiviral medications (rimantadine and amantadine) continue to be observed among circulating influenza A viruses, adamantanes are not recommended for treatment or prevention of influenza."

The alert goes on to say that although some strains of the flu and showing slight resistance to the antiviral medications, it is still important to consider taking the medications.  Because this year's flu strains are different than those contained in flu vaccines, it is particularly important to use antiviral medications to help battle the epidemic.

To reduce the substantial burden of influenza in the U.S., the CDC continues to recommend a three-pronged approach:

  • Influenza vaccination
  • Use of neuraminidase inhibitor antiviral medications when indicated for treatment or prevention
  • Use of other measures to decrease the spread of influenza, including promotion of hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, cough etiquette, and staying home from work and school when ill

Click here for the full advisory.

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