The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in early January reported a slight drop in influenza-like illnesses across the country, but even so the season was still going strong. The proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness for the week ended Jan. 19 was 4.3%, above the national baseline of 2.2%.
“About halfway through [the flu season], it’s shaping up to be a worse than average season, and a bad season particularly for the elderly,” noted Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a Jan. 18 press conference. “Seasonal influenza always takes the heaviest toll on seniors when it comes to deaths, particularly during seasons when H3N2 is the predominant strain — as it is this year,” he said. “In general, we estimate that about 90% of flu-related deaths are in people 65 years and older.”
The predominant strains this year do not appear resistant to antiviral treatments. “For high-risk patients antiviral treatment really can mean the difference between a milder illness and a stay in the hospital or in the intensive care unit, or even death,” Frieden said. “The drugs clearly work much better if they’re started soon after onset of illness in the first 48 hours.”
“I also want to assure patients that Tamiflu (oseltamivir) 30-mg and 40-mg capsules remain available, and pediatric patients 1 year of age and older can be dosed correctly using the 30-mg and 40-mg capsules,” noted Food and Drug Administration commissioner Margaret Hamburg, addressing reports of shortages of pediatric antiviral medicines. “Tamiflu 75-mg capsules are currently available, but supplies may run low if many pharmacies have to use the capsules to prepare an oral suspension for pediatric patients or to fill large numbers of prescriptions for adult patients. So to help avoid a shortage, the FDA is now allowing Genentech to distribute 2 million units of Tamiflu at the 75-mg capsule level that have an older version of the package insert. … It’s important to note that this medicine is fully approved. It is not outdated.”
The high incidence of flu has prompted a run on available immunizations. According to Frieden, flu shot manufacturers had allotted for distribution of up to 145 million doses this season. As of Jan. 18, 129 million of those doses had been distributed, meaning some 14 million vaccinations had yet to be ordered.