This year's flu season has hit younger and middle-aged adults harder than in past years, government health officials warned Thursday. In previous flu seasons, young children and seniors aged 65 and older were among those most likely to be hospitalized or die from flu.
But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults between ages 18 and 64 represented about 61 percent of all flu-related hospitalizations this year, with influenza deaths following the same pattern.
This age group accounted for 35 percent of all flu hospitalizations in the previous three flu seasons, health officials report in the Feb. 20 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC’s medical journal.
The age group also tends to have the lowest vaccination rates, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters during a press conference.
"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," said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. "The good news is that this season's vaccine is doing its job, protecting people across all age groups."
This year’s flu shot has been found to be 61 percent effective thus far, the CDC reported in a separate study published in the same journal issue. That means people who got the vaccine were 61 percent less likely to have to go to a doctor because of the flu.
That number might sound low to some hoping for full protection, but it’s consistent with previous flu seasons: Last year, the CDC reported the flu vaccine was 62 percent effective for what turned out to be an especially severe flu season.
CDC officials reported in December that last year’s flu vaccine prevented about 6.6 million illnesses, 3.2 million doctor’s visits, and 79,000 hospitalizations, mostly in seniors and young children. The large numbers may have been a reflection of the severity of last year's flu season, given that about 32 million people got sick, including 14.4 million that needed a doctor’s visits and 381,000 hospitalizations.