Doctors call for vaccines as flu season lingers - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Doctors call for vaccines as flu season lingers

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High numbers of flu infections and sever cases of illness has forced doctors to make urgent pleas for flu vaccinations. (Source: CDC/MGN) High numbers of flu infections and sever cases of illness has forced doctors to make urgent pleas for flu vaccinations. (Source: CDC/MGN)

(RNN) – This year's unusually high number of flu-like illnesses will likely continue, making it more important to seek prevention and treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu season's peak has lingered longer than normal.

The current reported hospitalization rate is 8.1 per 100,000 people, and the number of people seeking medical treatment for flu-like symptoms has doubled in the last four weeks.

Those numbers are abnormally high, according to Dr. Joe Bresee, chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in the CDC's Influenza Division.

The seriousness of several reported cases is also particularly alarming.

"While we can't say for certain how severe this season will be, we can say that a lot of people are getting sick with influenza, and we are getting reports of severe illness and hospitalizations," Bresee said in a CDC release.

Max Schwolert, a 17-year-old who was visiting relatives in Wisconsin, died from complications related to the flu right after Christmas. That state, ironically, reported some of the lowest levels of flu-like illnesses in the country.

Schwolert had not received a vaccine before the beginning of flu season.

"He just started having flu-like symptoms, and then the early morning of (Dec. 26) he had severe fever and chills," Michelle Schwolert, Max's aunt, told TV station KDFW. "It all happened very, very, very quickly."

Nineteen states are reporting low-to-moderate levels of influenza this season. The states with the lowest levels of reported flu-like illnesses are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Doctors say the mistake many people make is not getting the flu shot in the first place, and they may be further mistaken in thinking it is too far into flu season for a vaccine to matter.

"Anyone who has not already been vaccinated should do so now," Bresee said. "People who have severe influenza illness, or who are at high risk of serious influenza-related complications, should get treated with influenza antiviral medications if they get flu symptoms, regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated. Also, you don't need to wait for a positive laboratory test to start taking antivirals."

According to the CDC, it is important to get a flu vaccine every year because strains of the virus constantly change. Even then, only 91 percent of known viruses are included in current vaccines.

That makes antiviral medications an imperative way to fight the illness in case someone does get infected. The CDC recommends Tamiflu and Relenza as effective medicines to treat influenza at its onset, and it is recommended people seek treatment as soon as possible.

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