The 2013 flu season is poised for an early start, but health experts say that new vaccination options may help prevent the spread of influenza this year.
Across the country last year, hospitals were inundated with flu cases. The outbreak remained at epidemic levels for weeks and at least 154 children died, according to CDC.
2013-14: An early flu season?
This year, earlier-than-usual reports of the flu have prompted some local health officials to begin their immunization campaigns. In Los Angeles County, one patient has already been hospitalized with the illness.
"While occasional reports of cases and sometimes low levels of influenza can continue throughout the summer and early fall, these recent reports suggest a possible early start to the influenza season in our area," says Jonathan Fielding, director of the LA County Department of Public Health.
Getting people vaccinated
It can take up to two weeks to develop an immune response, so health officials are urging U.S. residents to get vaccinated as early as possible. "Ideally we'd like to be able to say to people, 'Get vaccinated a couple of weeks before the flu virus starts circulating in your community.' But we never know when that's going to happen," CDC's Lisa Grohskopf says.
According to Grohskopf, vaccination is particularly important for:
- Pregnant women;
- Children younger than age five;
- Adults over age 49;
- Patients whose immune systems are compromised due to disease or medication;
- Patients with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes;
- Patients who are overweight or obese;
- Those who work or live in long-term facilities; and
- Health care professionals.
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Researchers say that U.S. patients can choose from more than a dozen varieties of vaccines, many of which are being introduced for the first time this year.
"It does make for a dizzying amount of choices," Grohskopf said, but benefits patients who may have egg allergies or needle phobias.
New vaccine options
According to CDC officials, new vaccination options include:
- Quadrivalant vaccine. These vaccines protect against four strains of flu—rather than the usual three.
- Cell-culture vaccines. These vaccines are grown in animal cells, rather than eggs. It is the first year that vaccines grown in animal cells are available.
- Recombinant protein vaccine. These vaccines are genetically engineered and egg-free.
- Intradermal shots. These vaccines are designed for needle-phobic patients. They have shorter needles that penetrate just below the skin, rather than traditional intramuscular shots. These vaccines also provide a lower dose, so they may cause fewer side effects.
- High-dose vaccines. These vaccines deliver four times the usual dose of immunity-producing antigens. These vaccines are recommended for patients ages 65 and up, because their immune systems do not function as effectively as those of younger patients (NBC, 9/10; Reddy, Wall Street Journal, 9/9; Szabo, USA Today, 9/10).
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