Growing number of flu cases seen among young adults

A recent uptick in cases could signal the official start to flu season.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in a news release that an increase in flu cases could indicate the official start of the 2021-2022 flu season. This year’s strain, influenza A(H3N2), has mostly been detected in young adults and children, likely resulting from school and university attendance.

The University of Michigan is the site of one of the largest outbreaks, with more than 500 confirmed cases since Oct. 6. To address this, the CDC is working closely with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), which requested epidemiologic assistance (Epi-Aid).

According to the news release, “Epi-Aid allows CDC to provide rapid, short-term, onsite technical assistance from Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officers and other experts to help local authorities respond to an urgent public health problem. The goals of this Epi-Aid will be to evaluate the scope of the outbreak, assess risk factors for infection, support infection control measures, and quantify vaccine uptake among cases, which may help give an early sense of flu vaccine effectiveness this season.”

This outbreak doesn’t come as a surprise since young adults have had the lowest rates of flu vaccination every year - and as a result are the most common spreaders of the virus. This season, 89% of positive tests are from individuals ages 5-24.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted flu data in 2020, likely due to preventative measures such as mask wearing and social distancing. Now, as restrictions have relaxed, seasonal flu case numbers are back up with New Mexico, Georgia, and Rhode Island seeing the highest numbers. The increase of seasonal flu cases when combined with the ever-present threat of COVID-19 means experts are urging individuals to get vaccinated for both COVID-19 and the seasonal flu.

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Jeff Andrews, MD
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