Most of the United States is now seeing widespread flu activity, as health officials urge flu sufferers to receive antiviral treatment as soon as possible.
With flu activity now widespread across most of the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the 2017-2018 flu season is looking much like 2014-2015, the country’s most severe flu season in recent years. According to the CDC’s weekly FluView report for week 52 ending December 30, 2017, 46 states are reporting widespread flu activity, up from 36 states during the previous week. Only Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, and New Jersey reported regional flu activity. New York City along with 26 additional states saw high influenza-like illness (ILI) activity, and the proportion of outpatient visits for ILI also rose, from 5.0% the previous week to 5.8%. Influenza A viruses accounted for 84.6% of all flu-positive respiratory samples, with A(H3N2) accounting for more than 90% of those cases overall this season.
The rate of flu-related hospitalizations also jumped in week 52, from 8.7 laboratory-confirmed flu hospitalizations per 100,000 population to 13.7, for a total of 3,927 flu-related hospitalizations since October 1. “In the past, A(H3N2) virus-predominant influenza seasons have been associated with more hospitalizations and deaths in persons aged 65 years and older and young children compared to other age groups,” the CDC said in a recent Health Alert. “In addition, influenza vaccine effectiveness, in general, has been lower against A(H3N2) viruses than against influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 or influenza B viruses.” To counter the impact of the more severe viruses, the CDC is emphasizing the importance of antiviral medications, which should be started as soon as possible after flu symptoms begin.
As of week 52, the CDC reported 13 pediatric flu-related deaths. In California, a 7-year-old boy from San Bernardino died on January 4 after he began having breathing problems and visited the emergency room on December 31. Local news reports noted that the boy had asthma, which can cause an increased risk for severe flu illness and complications. Furthermore, California’s Department of Public Health is now reporting that the state has seen 27 flu deaths in individuals under the age of 65 so far this season; this time last year there were only 3.
In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a 21-year-old male resident recently died of organ failure due to septic shock from a flu infection. The Allegheny County Health Department is warning area residents about the rise in flu activity in the area, and urging them to go to the doctor for antiviral treatment as soon as flu symptoms begin. “Allegheny County is no exception to the uptick in flu cases that are currently being seen nationwide. Just this week, local health care providers and hospitals have seen an acute rise in flu cases and flu inpatient hospitalizations,” said department director Karen Hacker, MD, MPH, in a recent press release. “Compared with this time last year, the county has seen about 50% more flu cases reported and 64% more hospitalizations. Given the uptick in infection, we urge residents to get their flu shots, if they have not yet received one. It’s not too late.” So far this season, Allegheny County has been the hardest hit by the flu in Pennsylvania, reporting 1,696 laboratory-confirmed cases as of January 6.