Flu activity up; vaccine not as protective as hoped
■ Public health officials urge immunizations, hand hygiene, cough etiquette and appropriate use of antiviral drugs.
By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted March 3, 2008
One component of the 2007-08 influenza vaccine is providing protection against the variant of the flu virus causing nearly 40% of illnesses this season, but the other two are not good matches for circulating strains. Thus, if a patient contracts one of those viruses, this immunization may lessen the illness's impact rather than prevent it from occurring.
"These data suggest that protection against the H3N2 and B virus strains in the community may not be optimal ... [but] the effectiveness of the vaccine may not be completely compromised," said Joe Bresee, MD, chief of the epidemiology and prevention branch in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's influenza division.
The vaccine has been well-matched to circulating strains 16 out of the past 19 years, and public health officials are stressing the importance of receiving it as well as taking other protective measures to prevent infection and spread.
These steps include more frequent hand washing, antiviral medications as appropriate and good coughing etiquette. The need for these actions is particularly acute, because rates of influenza cases increased sharply as of Feb. 9, with all states reporting at least local activity. The full magnitude of this season will not be known until its conclusion.
"Whether this year ends up being a severe season, a moderate or a mild season I think can't be predicted with certainty at this point," Dr. Bresee said.
Vaccine has been plentiful this time around, with up to 132 million doses expected. Medical societies and public health agencies have been working for several years to create a more stable influenza vaccine supply.
In preparation for the 2008-09 flu season, the National Influenza Vaccine Summit, organized by the American Medical Association and CDC, will hold its annual meeting in May in Atlanta. Several vaccine manufacturers also are taking orders for next season.