Flu Season Has Arrived; Prevention & Treatment Urged

flu shot

The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) has been advised that reports of influenza are increasing across the country. TDH officials are asking all Tennesseans who have not yet had their annual flu vaccine to do so immediately, helping to protect themselves and to prevent the spread of the illness to others.

CDC and TDH also urge persons with flu-like illnesses who are at risk of severe illness with influenza due to some health conditions to seek care promptly to determine if treatment with influenza antiviral medications are needed. These health conditions include:

•       children aged younger than 2 years;
•       adults aged 65 years and older;
•       persons with chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular (except hypertension alone), renal, hepatic, hematological (including sickle cell disease), metabolic (including diabetes mellitus) or neurologic and neurodevelopment conditions (including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy [seizure disorders], stroke, intellectual disability [mental retardation], moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy or spinal cord injury);
•       persons with immunosuppression, including that caused by medications or by HIV infection;
•       women who are pregnant or postpartum (within two weeks after delivery);
•       persons aged younger than 19 years who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy;
•       American Indians/Alaska Natives;
•       persons who are morbidly obese (i.e., body-mass index is equal to or greater than 40); and
•       residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities.

CDC and TDH officials also urge clinicians to treat the very ill and high-risk suspect influenza patients with antiviral medications promptly and to not delay treatment for laboratory confirmation of influenza. Rapid office tests for influenza do not reliably detect influenza infection; people with influenza may test negative. According to TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH, swift antiviral treatment may reduce the severity of the illness in some patients and may save lives.

“Anti-viral medications should be started as soon as possible after influenza symptoms become apparent,” Dreyzehner said. “Clinical benefits are best when administered early, usually within 48 hours after the illness onset. Antiviral medications can also benefit some patients with severe or progressive illnesses after 48 hours, including those who are hospitalized.”

“As influenza activity picks up around the country, we can expect to see more Tennesseans in clinicians’ offices in the next several weeks,” said Tennessee Immunization Program Director Kelly Moore, MD, MPH. “For those who have put off getting a flu vaccine: wait no longer! It takes a couple of weeks for protection to develop after the vaccine is given. Unlike last season, the 2015-2016 influenza vaccine is a good match to the strains of influenza circulating now.”

The CDC estimates there were approximately 19 million influenza-associated visits to clinicians’ offices in the 2014-2015 flu season and 970,000 hospitalizations. Symptoms of influenza range from mild to severe, and can include muscle aches, fever, fatigue, sore throat, cough, headaches and stuffy or runny nose. Unlike the common cold, influenza usually comes on suddenly. To learn more about the current strains of influenza now circulating, visit http://emergency.cdc.gov/han/han00387.asp.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at www.tn.gov/health.