There have been many more flu cases in recent weeks, according to the CDC, which issued a health advisory Wednesday.

The CDC is recommending, besides the flu vaccine for prevention, more use of antiviral medicines for treatment.
Quick treatment is crucial and “should not be delayed even for a few hours to wait for the results of testing,” according to the advisory. Treatment works best when it’s started within 2 days of the first symptoms but has helped some patients even when started later.

Focus on treatment is important because in past seasons, this year’s dominant flu strain, A(H3N2), has been linked with more deaths and hospitalizations in people 65 and older and young children than in other groups. Also, the strength of this year’s vaccine may be as low as last year’s, at 32% for A(H3N2), the CDC says.

Antivirals have been effective in trials but haven’t been used enough on outpatients and inpatients, the CDC notes.
The advisory reminds doctors that all hospitalized patients and all high-risk patients suspected of having the flu should be treated.

Those groups include:

  • People with severe illness or those who get pneumonia
  • Children under 2 or people 65 and older, as well as people younger than 19 who are on long-term aspirin therapy
  • American Indians/Alaska natives
  • Pregnant women or those who have given birth within 2 weeks
  • People with suppressed immune systems
  • Extremely obese people (with a body mass index of at least 40)
  • Those living in long-term care facilities

Treatment is also recommended when the flu is suspected or confirmed for anyone with asthma or other pulmonary conditions, heart disease, and other chronic conditions, the CDC advises.

The CDC says that for high-risk people, providers may want to set up phone lines to discuss symptoms. Providers should also consider writing antiviral prescriptions without testing and before an office visit when treatment is deemed necessary over the phone, the agency says.