Flu shots prevented an estimated 6.6 million influenza-associated illnesses during the 2012-2013 flu season, but despite these vaccines benefits, only 40 percent of the population has been vaccinated so far this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Influenza vaccines reduced the number of flu illnesses and hospitalizations by 17 percent last year, preventing 3.2 million medically attended illnesses and 79,000 hospitalizations. This is higher than any other season for which the CDC has produced similar estimates.
The flu is responsible for about 200,000 hospitalizations each season, according to the CDC. This average is taken from data during the 1990s, when annual estimates ranged from 158,000 hospitalizations in 1990-1991 to a high of 431,000 hospitalizations in 1997-1998.
Nationwide, the report estimates there were a total of 31.8 million influenza-associated illnesses, 14.4 million medically attended illnesses, and 381,000 hospitalizations last season, with the disease hitting children younger than 5 and people 65 and older the hardest.
The CDC said 169 flu-related deaths among children were reported last year — the highest number in a non-pandemic season since reporting began in 2004. There were no pediatric influenza deaths in Iowa.
Flu-related deaths for those 18 years old and younger are the only deaths required to be reported to the CDC.
The CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat said this year's flu season is starting later than last year, but already there have been three reported influenza deaths among children. She added that children under the age of 9 years old may require a second dose of the vaccine.
Higher-dose vaccines are available for senior adults but data is not yet available to show how effective these vaccines are.
CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older to get a yearly flu vaccination. It is especially important for young children, people 65 and older and pregnant women. CDC also recommends that health care providers get vaccinated annually.
Seasonal influenza activity is increasing in parts of the United States and is expected to increase further in the coming weeks. Activity generally peaks from January to March but cases can occur as late as May.
So far this year, there are only sporadic cases of the flu in Iowa and other Midwestern states. There have been two influenza-associated hospitalizations, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health."It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to kick in," said Heather Meador, a Linn County Public Health nurse. "If you're going to get a flu shot, now is the time to do it, if you'll be out, traveling for the holidays."