NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Health is urging all Tennesseans to increase their efforts to prevent flu and flu-related health threats by getting immunized and talking with their healthcare providers about flu-like symptoms. Since 2007 there have been 29 pediatric flu-related deaths recorded in Tennessee, including three in December 2014.
That is the highest number of pediatric flu deaths in the month of December since current reporting began in 2007. Prior to 2007, pediatric influenza deaths were not specifically required to be reported.
“Our heartfelt thoughts and condolences go out to the families and friends affected by these tragic deaths and we are deeply sorry for the loss of each of these children,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Regrettably there is no perfect protection against influenza, and some people are more vulnerable than others so we continue to urge everyone more than six months of age to be vaccinated, to provide the best available protection to the people we love, our communities and ourselves. We also urge individuals with flu-like symptoms to rapidly consult their healthcare providers about the advisability of beginning antiviral medications.”
Those with flu-like symptoms should ask about the use of anti-viral medications such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) or zanamivir (Relenza®). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, clinical benefits are greatest when antiviral treatment is administered early, ideally within 48 hours of symptoms starting. These antivirals may decrease the severity of flu but are not always advisable for every patient. The CDC also advises treatment with antivirals is recommended as soon as possible without waiting for confirmatory testing for those patients with confirmed or suspected influenza who have severe, complicated or progressive illness.
“It’s important to contact your healthcare provider so appropriate treatment can begin quickly,” said State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD. “While common colds and the flu may have similar symptoms, including muscle pain, fever, sore throat, coughing and overall weakness, the onset of flu usually happens more quickly and the symptoms are often more severe. Your healthcare provider can evaluate you and advise if anti-viral medications are appropriate. In some cases, he or she may provide antivirals before flu confirmation tests are complete, as a precautionary measure.”
Currently in Tennessee influenza-like illness activity is above CDC epidemic thresholds and by using the Tennessee sentinel provider network the TDH has detected confirmed cases of influenza in 44 of 95 counties. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. between December and February, but seasonal flu can continue to occur as late as May. Flu will still be a threat for many months and for that reason, those who have not received flu vaccine by injection or nasal spray should do so quickly to have increased protection for the remainder of the 2014-2015 flu season.
Even in years, like this one, when other strains not present in vaccine are circulating, flu vaccine is still the best protection available. Other key protective measures include hand washing, avoidance of touching your face, covering a cough or sneeze and staying home if you are sick to avoid exposing others.
Last month, health officials warned that the flu season could be severe.
For additional information about the 2014-2015 flu season, visit the CDC website at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/index.htm
Photo Credit: James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention