Flu ‘gathering speed’ across the US as health officials prepare for what could be a nasty season



CNN

US health officials are increasingly concerned about this year’s flu season, and are already seeing signs that the virus is spreading.

As the 2022-23 flu season begins, a California high school is experiencing a “significant number of absences” among students due to possible cases of the flu. Flu activity in the United States often begins to increase in October and usually peaks between December and February.

“We can confirm that there is a high number of absences at Henry High School, likely due to the Flu,” Samer Naji, a spokesperson for the San Diego Unified School District, said in an email to CNN on Thursday. About 1,000 were absent on Wednesday, out of 2,600 students.

“So far the COVID tests have been negative, but several students have tested positive for the flu,” Naji said. “Typical signs and symptoms include cough, sore throat, runny nose, fever and upper respiratory infection symptoms. We are in close contact with San Diego County Public Health.”

The San Diego County Public Health Service announced Wednesday that it is investigating a large outbreak of respiratory and flu-like symptoms among students at Patrick Henry High School, adding that it is “too early” to determine the cause of the outbreak and that the county. evaluating the possibility of similar outbreaks in other schools.

“We are coordinating with local school districts and checking with other school campuses to determine why so many students were affected so suddenly,” Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s deputy public health officer, said in the announcement.

“Unfortunately, we anticipated a tough flu season, and along with COVID-19, other respiratory viruses are also returning quickly,” Kaiser said. “If you haven’t already, now is the time to get the extra protection that vaccines provide to fight the flu and COVID-19.”

Flu activity in a given year can be difficult to predict, but doctors are preparing for a “very big” flu season, said Dr. William Schaffner, professor and medical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. From the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

“I’m concerned that we’re going to have a really big flu season this year, very different from our previous two seasons,” he said.

Signs of increased flu activity were first seen in the Southern Hemisphere this summer, and as more people in the Northern Hemisphere ease Covid-19 restrictions and return to socializing without masks and in large crowds, flu cases are being reported. The number of cases so widespread this early in the flu season is unusual.

“Here we are in mid-October, not mid-November, and we’re already seeing scattered flu cases, even hospitalized flu cases, across the country,” Schaffner, whose Vanderbilt University Medical Center is part of a surveillance network. monitors hospitalized flu cases.

“So we know this virus is already spreading in the community. It’s already picking up speed. I feel like it’s about a month ahead of schedule,” Schaffner said.

When people started isolating, social distancing and wearing masks to slow the spread of Covid-19 in early 2020, the flu disappeared in the US. As a result, most people have been exposed to the flu for several years, which means their immunity to the flu virus may be low and underscores the need to get vaccinated.

U.S. health officials are encouraging people to get the flu shot as soon as possible, said Adriane Casalotti, director of government and public affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

“There’s definitely a push to get the flu vaccine at the top of people’s priority lists. We’re all concerned, given what’s happening in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia, that this year’s flu season could be really, really tough, frankly,” Casalotti said.

Concerns have grown as officials face possible winter spikes in Covid-19 and other common respiratory viruses, such as respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, a leading cause of lower respiratory tract infections in infants and young children.

According to Casalotti, the spread of the flu can have a big impact on communities, especially since it can be difficult to distinguish the symptoms of the flu from those of Covid-19, the common cold or allergies.

“We are already starting to see the flu circulating in some areas,” said Casalotti. “Overall, flu activity is low across the nation, but it’s starting to pick up especially in the Southeast.”

In August, as concerns grew about the coming flu season, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee released a report updating its seasonal flu recommendations for this year’s flu.

Typically, older adults receive a higher dose of the flu vaccine than younger adults, but in its latest update, ACIP recommended that adults over 65 “preferably” receive a higher dose or adjuvanted flu vaccine.

“Three of the flu vaccines work best in people over age 65,” said Schaffner, who is ACIP’s liaison representative. “There is a high-dose vaccine, there is another one with an adjuvant – an immune stimulator – and the third is a recombinant vaccine.” Recombinant flu vaccines do not involve the flu virus or chicken eggs in the manufacturing process.

“If you look at people aged 65 or more in previous seasons, 80% of them were already receiving one of these three vaccines,” he said. “This year’s novelty is that ACIP has made a distinctive priority recommendation. Actually, if you’re vaccinating people over 65, if you want to use one of these three vaccines, and if one of them isn’t available, use the regular vaccine.”

In general, the CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months of age get an annual flu shot, especially people who may be pregnant, because the vaccine provides protection not only for them but also for the baby, Schaffner said.

“There’s an added benefit,” he said. “That is, the antibodies produced in response to the vaccine, some cross the placenta and enter the newborn baby. So the newborn gets some of that protection for the first four to six months of life, before the baby is actively vaccinated.”