About 90 percent of flu deaths are in the elderly; the very young and people with other health problems such as diabetes are also at higher risk.
If you’re worried about how sick you are and are in one of these risk groups, see a doctor, Frieden urged. One third to one half of people are not getting prompt treatment with antiviral medicines, he said.
Two drugs — Tamiflu and Relenza — can cut the severity and risk of death from the flu but must be started within 48 hours of first symptoms to do much good. Tamiflu is available in a liquid form for use in children under 1, and pharmacists can reformulate capsules into a liquid if supplies are short in an area, said Dr. Margaret Hamburg, head of the Food and Drug Administration.
To help avoid a shortage, the FDA is letting Tamiflu’s maker, Genentech, distribute 2 million additional doses of capsules that have an older version of package insert.
“It is fully approved, it is not outdated,” just lacks information for pharmacists on how to mix it into a liquid if needed for young children, she said.
This year’s flu season started about a month earlier than normal and the dominant flu strain is one that tends to make people sicker. Vaccinations are recommended for anyone 6 months or older. There’s still plenty of vaccine — an update shows that 145 million doses have been produced, “twice the supply that was available only several years ago,” Hamburg said.
About 129 million doses have been distributed already, and a million doses are given each day, Frieden said.
The vaccine is not perfect but “it’s by far the best tool we have to prevent influenza,” he said.
Carlos Maisonet, 73, got a flu shot this week at New York’s Brooklyn Hospital Center at the urging of his wife, who was vaccinated in August.