The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that seasonal mortality figures related to flu vary widely - from 3,000 to 49,000 over a 30-year surveillance period - depending on the severity and type of viruses seen each year. About 90 percent of adults who die are over 65 years old. While states are not required to report adult mortality figures related to flu, they must report pediatric deaths. From 2011 to 2012, 34 patients under 18 years old died from the flu; and 115 pediatric deaths occurred from 2010 to 2011.
The flu vaccination contains dead or weakened flu viruses. The vaccine can be injected with a shot or applied through a nasal spray. Once vaccinated, your body produces antibodies that protect you from the targeted flu viruses. This antibody protection develops about two weeks after the vaccine is administered. Some vaccinated people do get the flu, but they usually have a milder case. Others may contract a viral strain that isn't one of those targeted in the annual vaccination.
The CDC now recommends the annual flu vaccination for individuals 6 months and older. However, the agency's website has specific recommendations for people who have certain allergies, chronic illnesses and other characteristics. These people at high risk for flu complications are especially encouraged to get vaccinated:
- Pregnant women
- Children younger than 5, especially those between 2 and 6 months
- Adults 50 and older
- People with certain chronic medical conditions, including diabetes, asthma and chronic lung disease
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- People who live with, care for or have regular contact with those at high risk for flu complications
Flu-related hospitalizations are rising earlier than usual this year. The last time flu season began this early was in the winter months of 2003 to 2004. More than 48,000 U.S. citizens died from the flu that year.
Unlike infections caused by bacteria, viral illnesses like colds and the flu do not respond to antibiotics. Health agencies and physicians are trying to educate patients and parents about this because scientific evidence shows overuse of antibiotics is making some bacteria strains less responsive to these essential medicines. Many ailments can be caused by both viruses and bacteria, including meningitis, pneumonia and diarrhea. With these illnesses, the cause should be determined before antibiotics are prescribed.