Flu season for 2010-11 wrapped up

The 2010-2011 flu season is officially over. Phew, thank goodness. Now it’s time to look back and reflect on the previous year, in order to determine what next season will look like. And the CDC has just done that. As of last week, they have came out with their wrap-up of the 2010-11 flu season and a look ahead at the next one.

The report says that the most recent flu season was less severe overall than the 2009-10 pandemic and the 2007-08 season but more severe than the 2008-09 season. Severity is gauged by the percentage of deaths from pneumonia or flu, the number of flu-associated pediatric deaths reported and the percentage of visits to outpatient clinics for flu-like illnesses.

The CDC also says that the 2010-11 season peaked nationally in early February, and featured higher rates of hospitalization for older people and lower rates for younger people than in 2009-10, during the H1N1 pandemic.

In its report, the agency says the FDA has recommended that the 2011-12 flu vaccine protect against the same strains as it did this year: H1N1 (aka the swine flu, a type of influenza A virus), another type of influenza A virus (H3N2) and a type of influenza B virus. Therefore the new one will look a whole lot like the old one.

“Having no change in the vaccine components from one year to the next happens occasionally.” said Lyn Finelli, the CDC’s chief of influenza surveillance.

So do you need the new shot if you were vaccinated during the flu season that just passed? The answer is yes. “You definitely need to get it. The immunity conferred by the flu shot isn’t very long-lasting,” Finelli says.

And, for the first time, the CDC is recommending everyone aged 6 months and up — including the usually low-risk 19- to 49-year-olds — be vaccinated against the flu. Recommendations by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices say there’s “evidence that annual influenza vaccination is a safe and effective preventive health action with potential benefit in all age groups.”

That means just one vaccination for most people. But some kids between 6 months and 8 years old — those whose vaccination status is unknown, who have never been vaccinated or were vaccinated for the first time during the 2009-10 season and only got one dose of seasonal flu vaccine and those who didn’t get at least one dose of the swine flu vaccine last year — should get two doses this year, the CDC says.

The CDC also recommends getting the flu shot if you have travel plans. Traveling to other countries, especially on cruise ships, can make you susceptible to the flu.

Although the flu season generally doesn’t kick in until October, some shipments of the vaccine have already started.

Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis’s Sanofi Pasteur and AstraZeneca’s MedImmune have all announced over the last ten days or so that they’ve started shipping vaccines to distributors. Different brands and types of vaccines are approved for different age groups.


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