Sonia Despiar, LPN, (right), a nurse with Governor Healthcare Services, injects Imelda Silva with flu vaccine
Flu hits epidemic level in US Vaccine 62pc effective: scientists

NEW YORK, Jan 12, (Agencies): Influenza has officially reached epidemic proportions in the United States, with 7.3 percent of deaths last week caused by pneumonia and the flu, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.
The early start and fast spread of flu this season — especially after 2011-2012’s very mild outbreak — has overwhelmed doctors’ offices and hospitals, forcing some patients to wait through the night to be seen in emergency departments.
Nine of the 10 US regions had “elevated” flu activity last week, confirming that seasonal flu has spread across the country and reached high levels several weeks before the usual late January or February, CDC reported.

Only one region — the Southwest and California — had “normal” flu activity last week.
Tens of thousands of Americans die every year from flu, even in non-epidemic years. The threshold for an epidemic is that it causes more than 7.2 percent of deaths, but as yet there is no definitive count of the total caused by flu this year.
In Boston, flu cases are 10 times higher than they were last year, causing Mayor Thomas Menino to declare a public health emergency on Wednesday.
In Illinois, 24 hospitals struggling to cope with the flood of flu cases had to turn away people arriving in the emergency department, while in Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley Hospital outside Allentown has set up a tent for people who arrive with less-severe flu.
A total of 20 children have now died from this season’s flu, up two from the previous week, the CDC said. That compares to 34 during the full 2011-2012 flu season and 282 during the severe 2009-2010 season.
The outbreak has led to attempts at prevention that go beyond the standard advice of getting vaccinated, avoiding contact with sick people and frequently washing hands with soap.
In Boston, the Catholic Archdiocese has told priests they could suspend the offering of communion wine using a shared chalice and bow rather than shake hands while exchanging the Sign of Peace, a Christian greeting.
Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Deeley urged priests to use hand sanitizer before and after communion and to avoid touching congregants’ tongues or hands. He said parishioners who were ill “should remain at home and return to church when they are well.”

While flu vaccines offer protection, they are not failsafe.
This year’s flu vaccine is 62 percent effective, scientists reported on Friday in the CDC’s weekly publication, meaning that almost four in 10 people who receive the vaccine and are exposed to the virus will nevertheless become infected.
This is considered “moderate” effectiveness and is in line with previous years’ flu vaccines, which range from 50 percent to 70 percent effective, Dr. Joseph Bresee, chief of the CDC’s influenza division, told reporters.
Experts recommend the vaccine for everyone over 6 months of age. Even if it does not prevent flu, immunization can reduce the severity of the illness, preventing pneumonia and other life-threatening results of flu.
Public health authorities were correct in their forecast of which flu strains would emerge this season and therefore what vaccine to make: one that contains two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B. An A strain, called H3N2, predominates this season, though the B strain has caused about 20 percent of cases.
About 10 percent of cases have been caused by a B strain that is not in the vaccine, which “has space for only three strains,” CDC Director Dr Tom Frieden said.
Dr Arnold Monto of the University of Michigan, a co-author of the vaccine-effectiveness study told Reuters this year’s vaccine was “a good vaccine, but not a great vaccine.”

It is less effective for the frail elderly, for people receiving chemotherapy for cancer, and for people taking oral steroids, as their immune systems have been weakened and are often unable to produce an effective number of antibodies in response to the vaccine.
One reason flu vaccines are far from perfect, said Monto, is where in the body the viruses find a home — congregating on the surface of small airways in the respiratory tract, while virus-fighting antibodies that are stimulated by vaccines mostly stay in the bloodstream.
According to the most recent CDC data, 37 percent of Americans — 112 million people — had received the flu vaccine as of mid-November.
Of the 135 million doses produced this year, 128 million have been distributed to doctors’ offices, drug stores, clinics and other facilities.
Although public health officials believe enough doses were produced, some spot shortages have developed. “You may have to call a few places,” before finding one with vaccine, said the CDC’s Bresee, “but it should be available.”
In its weekly flu update on Friday, the CDC reported that 24 of the 50 US states as well as New York City had experienced “high activity” in flu-like illnesses last week. In 16 states, activity was moderate, while in 10 it was low or minimal.
Flu is now widespread in all but three states as the nation grapples with an earlier-than-normal season. But there was one bit of good news Friday: The number of hard-hit areas declined.
The flu season in the US got under way a month early, in December, driven by a strain that tends to make people sicker. That led to worries that it might be a bad season, following one of the mildest flu seasons in recent memory.
The latest numbers do show that the flu surpassed an “epidemic” threshold last week. That is based on deaths from pneumonia and influenza in 122 US cities. However, it’s not unusual — the epidemic level varies at different times of the year, and it was breached earlier this flu season, in October and November.
And there’s a hint that the flu season may already have peaked in some spots, like in the South. Still, officials there and elsewhere are bracing for more sickness
In Ohio, administrators at Miami University are anxious that a bug that hit employees will spread to students when they return to the Oxford campus next week.
“Everybody’s been sick. It’s miserable,” said Ritter Hoy, a spokeswoman for the 17,000-student school.
Despite the early start, health officials say it’s not too late to get a flu shot. The vaccine is considered a good — though not perfect — protection against getting really sick from the flu.
Flu was widespread in 47 states last week, up from 41 the week before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday. The only states without widespread flu were California, Mississippi and Hawaii.
The number of hard-hit states fell to 24 from 29, where larger numbers of people were treated for flu-like illness. Now off that list: Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina in the South, the first region hit this flu season.
Recent flu reports included holiday weeks when some doctor’s offices were closed, so it will probably take a couple more weeks to get a better picture, CDC officials said Friday. Experts say so far say the season looks moderate.
“Only time will tell how moderate or severe this flu season will be,” CDC Director Dr Thomas Frieden said Friday in a teleconference with reporters.
The government doesn’t keep a running tally of adult deaths from the flu, but estimates that it kills about 24,000 people in an average year. Nationally, 20 children have died from the flu this season.
Flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months or older. Since the swine flu epidemic in 2009, vaccination rates have increased in the US, but more than half of Americans haven’t gotten this year’s vaccine.
Nearly 130 million doses of flu vaccine were distributed this year, and at least 112 million have been used. Vaccine is still available, but supplies may have run low in some locations, officials said.
To find a shot, “you may have to call a couple places,” said Dr Patricia Quinlisk, who tracks the flu in Iowa.
In midtown Manhattan, Hyrmete Sciuto got a flu shot Friday at a drugstore. She skipped it in recent years, but news reports about the flu this week worried her.
During her commute from Edgewater, N.J., by ferry and bus, “I have people coughing in my face,” she said. “I didn’t want to risk it this year.”
The vaccine is no guarantee, though, that you won’t get sick. On Friday, CDC officials said a recent study of more than 1,100 people has concluded the current flu vaccine is 62 percent effective. That means the average vaccinated person is 62 percent less likely to get a case of flu that sends them to the doctor, compared to people who don’t get the vaccine. That’s in line with other years.
The vaccine is reformulated annually, and this year’s is a good match to the viruses going around.
The flu’s early arrival coincided with spikes in flu-like illnesses caused by other bugs, including a new norovirus that causes vomiting and diarrhea, or what is commonly known as “stomach flu.” Those illnesses likely are part of the heavy traffic in hospital and clinic waiting rooms, CDC officials said.
Europeans also are suffering an early flu season, though a milder strain predominates there. China, Japan, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Algeria and the Republic of Congo have also reported increasing flu.
Flu usually peaks in midwinter. Symptoms can include fever, cough, runny nose, head and body aches and fatigue. Some people also suffer vomiting and diarrhea, and some develop pneumonia or other severe complications.
Most people with flu have a mild illness. But people with severe symptoms should see a doctor. They may be given antiviral drugs or other medications to ease symptoms.
Some shortages have been reported for children’s liquid Tamiflu, a prescription medicine used to treat flu. But health officials say adult Tamiflu pills are available, and pharmacists can convert those to doses for children.

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