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Flu Activity Low So Far, But More Cases to Come: CDC

THURSDAY, Dec. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Flu activity in the United States was low this fall throughout most of the nation, but government health officials expect flu viruses will infect more people in the weeks and months to come.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already received several reports of flu-related deaths, including two children under the age of 5, one from New York and one from Texas.

From Oct. 3 through Dec. 11, most cases of flu occurred in the Southeast, according to this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, from the CDC. Of the three flu strains circulating -- influenza A (H3N2), 2009 A (H1N1) and B viruses -- the B virus has predominated in the southeastern states.

Flu activity last year peaked early (in late October) because of the H1N1 or so-called swine flu pandemic, but flu typically peaks in January or later, health officials noted.

The best way to prevent flu is to get a flu vaccine each year.

"Health-care providers should offer influenza vaccination throughout the influenza season to protect as many persons as possible from influenza virus infection and its complications," the report said.

The flu causes severe illness and life-threatening complications in many people, especially the very young, very old, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems. On average, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications each year, according to the CDC.

The strains included in this season's updated vaccine are well-matched to the viruses seen so far, officials said.

Doctors should watch for signs of bacterial co-infection in patients with flu and request bacterial cultures if pneumonia is suspected, the report says. When deciding on antibiotic treatment for bacterial infection, they should take methicillin-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus into account.

So far this season, 2,807 positive flu tests from 48 states and the District of Columbia have been reported to the CDC. Of those, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) were from the Southeast, the only region where more cases of influenza B have been reported than influenza A. Those cases represent 86 percent of all influenza B viruses reported nationwide.

In 2009-2010, the widespread H1N1 virus caused the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years. CDC expects the H1N1 virus to spread again this season, along with the other seasonal flu viruses.

More information

To learn more about the flu, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

-- Margaret Farley Steele

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dec. 23, 2010

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