The 2019-2020 influenza season is underway and with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data showing activity declining slightly but remaining high, it appears the season's peak is yet to come. While the CDC says the overall flu-related hospitalization rate is in line with previous seasons, this year's flu activity is already proving unpredictable—more than 67% of reported flu cases are of the influenza B/Victoria viruses. Typically, incidences of those viruses don't peak until late in the flu season.
"I looked back through the last 15 years of CDC data and we haven't had a season kick off with influenza B," says Bernhard "Bud" Wiedermann, M.D., M.A., attending in infectious diseases at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., and professor of pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences. "It's more of a curiosity than anything else, but it does make me wonder if we're going to see another peak of influenza A later in the season."
Vaccine, medications effective against this season's strains
Whether a patient has influenza A or B doesn't change the treatment protocol, which—so far—seems to be very effective. The CDC reports that nearly all—more than 99%—of the influenza viruses tested this season are susceptible to the four FDA-approved influenza antiviral medications recommended for use in the United States.
"There hasn't been any unusual resistance to medication detected so far, which is a good thing," Wiedermann says. "Also, the strains the CDC has tested this season seems to be a very good match with what's in the vaccine—that's also good because sometimes if there's a mismatch they don't work as well."
'It's not too late' for vaccine
That strong correlation underscores the role of vaccination as the most effective way to combat the flu. And although flu activity is ramping up across the country, the first week of January, the CDC decreased the number of U.S. jurisdictions with high flu illness activity from 37 to 36 states, districts and territories. It points out that it's not too late to get the vaccine.
"That's the big message health care providers must impress upon patients and their families," Wiedermann says. "It's not too late—so please get the flu vaccine."
Widespread awareness key to flu prevention
For Wiedermann and his team at Children's National, preventing further spread of the flu means a multi-faceted awareness campaign:
- Staff logging in to the hospital's intranet are greeted with a banner notification reminding them to practice good flu safety precautions.
- Signage around the hospital serves as a reminder for staff as well as the general public.
- Callers on hold in the hospital's phone system hear recorded messages with strategies around flu prevention.
Additionally, Children's National team members wear a constant reminder of their vigilance against the flu. Staffers who've received the flu vaccination wear colored clips on their identification badges, so everyone instantly knows the vaccination status of their colleagues.
"And those who can't get vaccinated must wear a mask throughout the flu season," Wiedermann
Read more about the current flu season with advice from a pediatric infection prevention specialist on curbing the spread of the virus.