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Flu Reaches Epidemic Proportions in the United States

FEB 01, 2017 | EINAV KEET
In just the third week of 2017, the influenza virus in the United States has reached epidemic levels, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As the 2016-2017 flu season continues, health officials in 37 states have now reported widespread flu activity, which is up from the previous week’s tally of 29 states. High flu activity, reported in seven states a week prior, is now affecting the 10 states of Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee, along with New York City. Surveillance laboratories have confirmed at least 25,628 flu-positive specimens, 87% of which have been influenza A viruses.

With the three flu-related pediatric deaths reported in the week ending January 21, a total of eight children have died of influenza-related illness so far this season. In the 2015-2016 flu season, the CDC reported 89 pediatric deaths associated with the flu, a number that fell from the total of 148 deaths reported during the 2014-2015 flu season. One of the recent deaths included a 6 year old boy from Ohio, a tragedy that led the school where the boy attended kindergarten to cancel classes and offer grief counseling. The Ohio Department of Health has reported that the state’s widespread flu activity has led to at least 654 hospitalizations, and with no vaccine shortages in the state, health officials are urging Ohio residents to protect themselves from the virus by receiving flu shots.

Mississippi health officials have confirmed their first pediatric influenza death of the season. This news comes as the state has upgraded their flu activity level from regional in week 2 to widespread in week 3 of the year. In its latest weekly influenza report, the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) has reported a statewide rate of influenza-like illness of 4.3%, up from 3.5% in the previous week and also higher than the 2.8% reported for the same week in the 2015-2016 flu season.

“We know, unfortunately, that influenza infections can lead to serious complications and in some cases, death, even for healthy children and young adults,” said MSDH state epidemiologist Paul Byers, MD, in a recent statement. “We are now in peak flu season, and it’s vitally important to get a flu shot if you haven’t done so already. All indicators suggest that the current flu vaccine is a good match for the flu strains in Mississippi.”

“It’s very important to stay home when you’re sick so you don’t infect others,” added Dr. Byers. “Also, be sure to practice good hygiene such as covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and washing your hands frequently. Please contact your healthcare provider if you think you have the flu. Medications are available that can lessen the severity of illness.”

In their flu prevention recommendations, the CDC reports that antiviral medications offer rapid treatment of flu symptoms and that early treatment can be lifesaving, particularly for those at risk of influenza-related complications. Antiviral testing conducted this season on the currently circulating H1N1 and H3N2 influenza A viruses as well as influenza B viruses has shown no resistance to the antiviral neuraminidase inhibitor drugs oseltamivir, zanamivir, and peramivir, according to the recent FluView report, which is positive news for those who may become infected before flu season ends this spring.
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