The flu season comes and goes every year, but health officials are continuing to find this year’s as one for the books.
As of January 27, an additional 16 children in the U.S. passed away from the flu in that one week alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That brings the total to 53 flu-associated deaths among youth this season.
Hospitalization rates have not been this high since the center began tracking numbers 13 years ago. The report recorded the overall hospitalization rate being around 51 people per 100,000 — the highest rates were among adults aged 65 and up, aged 50 – 64, and children aged 0 to 4 years old respectively.
The season is also the most widespread.
“As of this week, overall hospitalizations are now the highest we’ve seen,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, told reporters on Friday, February 2. “Unfortunately, our latest tracking data indicate flu activity is still high and widespread.”
Widespread influenza activity was reported by 48 states and Puerto Rico, according to the latest CDC influenza surveillance report released weekly. Regional influenza was reported in Oregon and U.S. territory Guam, and local influenza activity was reported in Hawaii and the District of Columbia. The U.S. Virgin Islands have also been experiencing sporadic influenza activity.
CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said that the season hasn’t even reached its peak yet.
“It is not going down yet,” said Nordlund. “Really, the bottom line is there is still likely many more weeks to go.”
Now in its 10th week since October, the flu season has three influenza virus strains going around being H3N2 (the main flu virus going around the U.S.), H1N1, and influenza B.
The actual effectiveness of the flu vaccine has had many people feeling concerned and anxious. A new Canadian study on the flu vaccine found it to be only 10 percent effective against H3N2 among Canadian adults ages 20 to 64. Taking all age groups into account, the protection rate stretched to 17 percent. Efficacy rates in the U.S. have been estimated to be around 30 percent — updated estimates may come in the next coming weeks.
But Schuchat joins other health experts in encouraging people to get their vaccine. Nearly half of the children who passed were said to be healthy before getting sick, and 80 percent of them did not get a flu shot.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Thursday that despite reports of spot shortages of the vaccine, “at this time, there is no nationwide shortage.”
Schuchat recommended patients call more than one pharmacy for their prescription.
In addition to getting vaccinated (injection, not nasal spray),the CDC recommends taking preventative flu spreading efforts like washing hands with soap and water, avoid getting in contact with sick people, avoid touching our faces, and staying home if sick.
If already sick, the CDC recommends taking antiviral drugs if prescribed by a doctor.
There have been early signs of flu activity cooling up in the Western states, but Schuchat said, “we are not out of the woods yet.” Activity in the South has remained nearly static, while Eastern states have been seeing increases.
Schuchat said that warning signs can include a very high persistent fever, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat or shallow breathing, or significant tiredness or confusion.
“This is a very difficult season,” said Schuchat who this week replaced Brenda Fitzgerald who resigned as director following a Politico report that she traded tobacco stock.
Schuchat addressed the leadership transition saying, “Despite recent leadership changes, [the] CDC remains committed to our 24/7 mission of protecting the health and safety of the American people.”