CDC says flu skewed young this season

This flu season was especially hard on younger- and middle-age adults, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The CDC said people between the ages of 18 and 64 represented 61 percent of all hospitalizations from influenza this season. The number is higher than the prior three seasons when the same age group represented approximately 35 percent of all hospitalizations. Influenza deaths also affected the younger age group more than usual this season.

"Flu hospitalizations and deaths in people younger- and middle-aged adults is a sad and difficult reminder that flu can be serious for anyone, not just the very young and old; and that everyone should be vaccinated," Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, said. "The good news is that this season's vaccine is doing its job, protecting people across all age groups."

The currently circulating H1N1 virus emerged in 2009, triggering a pandemic that caused high rates of hospitalization and death in younger and middle-aged people. This is the first season since the pandemic that H1N1 viruses were predominant in the U.S.

"Younger people may feel that influenza is not a threat to them, but this season underscores that flu can be a serious disease for anyone," Frieden said. "It's important that everyone get vaccinated. It's also important to remember that some people who get vaccinated may still get sick, and we need to use our second line of defense against flu: antiviral drugs to treat flu illness. People at high risk of complications should seek treatment if they get a flu-like illness. Their doctors may prescribe antiviral drugs if it looks like they have influenza."

In a flu vaccine effectiveness study, the CDC found this year's flu vaccine reduced the risk of having to go to the doctor for flu illness by an estimated 61 percent across all ages. The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get an annual flu vaccine.

"We are committed to the development of better flu vaccines, but existing flu vaccines are the best preventive tool available now," Frieden said. "This season vaccinated people were substantially better off than people who did not get vaccinated. The season is still ongoing. If you haven't yet, you should still get vaccinated."