By Tom Wilemon, The Tennessean
Tennessee and other Southeastern states are posting the highest number of influenza cases in the earliest flu season in a decade, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday.
The last time flu season started this early was in 2003.
was an early and severe flu year," said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.
"While flu is always unpredictable, the early nature of the cases as
well as the specific strains we're seeing suggest this could be a bad
This year's flu shot is a 90 percent match for the
strains reported to the CDC. It includes the H1NI, which caused a
2009-10 pandemic, and the H3N2 strain that is causing the most illnesses
this year, Frieden said.
Workers with the Tennessee Department of Health
have given 86,000 vaccinations, but state epidemiologist Dr. Tim F.
Jones said more people should get protected before spending time with
family members who may be at increased risk for severe complications.
county health departments offer free vaccinations, as do many
employers. Grocery stores, pharmacies and clinics also offer
vaccinations. Earlier this season, some Kroger stores offered drive-thru
clinics where patients received vaccines while still in their cars.
The vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective.
think all of us reap the benefits of people around us protecting
themselves," Jones said. "If you are a healthy 38-year-old, I'm not very
worried about you, but you do not need to be putting your grandmother
in the nursing home at risk or the baby that you go and visit at a
People who never get the vaccine and never get the flu benefit from community immunity or have been lucky, he said.
like people boasting about not wearing their seat belts," Jones said.
"Lots of us could stand up and say, 'I've been driving without a seat
belt for 60 years, and I'm still alive.' Well, the dead ones aren't
there to brag about it."
The season in Tennessee usually peaks in January and February, but this year could be different, Jones said.
season can be severe, hospitalizing up to 200,000 people and killing
between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans. Last year was a relatively mild
season, but CDC officials said that H3N2 strains have been associated
with more severe seasons in the past. The H1N1, first referred to as the
swine flu, killed more than 1,000 children in the United States,
It's a myth that the shot makes people sick, said Dr. Dan Jernigan, deputy director of the CDC's influenza division.
are many respiratory viruses that cause illness," Jernigan said. "Flu
is one of them. Flu is one of the preventable respiratory viruses.
Getting vaccinated for the flu does not necessarily prevent you at all
from getting any of those other respiratory viruses."
Flu is much more serious illness than most respiratory viruses, Jernigan said.
Those considered at highest risk from flu-related complications include young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
flu costs the American health care system about $10.4 billion a year
and $87 billion in indirect costs, such as missed work days, Jernigan