Health Officials Predict Flu Season Could Last Until May

Flu activity continues to drop across the country, but new outbreaks continue as health officials predict a flu season that could last until May in some areas.

Despite the overall decline in national flu activity, flu season is hitting late peaks in some parts of the United States; in fact, health officials around the country are predicting that some areas will experience a longer-lasting flu season than usual this year.

As widespread flu activity continues its decline in the United States, it has now been reported in 36 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although the number of states reporting cases have dropped since last week’s FluView report, where the agency noted widespread flu activity in 39 states, some southern and southeastern areas in the United States are still experiencing high flu activity. According to the CDC’s new weekly flu report, the states that are currently experiencing high influenza-like illness activity include: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming.

While much of the 2016-2017 flu season has been marked by the predominance of the influenza A (H3N2) strain of the virus, new flu surveillance reports show an uptick in illnesses caused by influenza B. In fact, the new report coming in from the CDC shows that 61% of specimens tested positive for influenza A and nearly 39% tested positive for influenza B. Despite the misconception that influenza B viruses cause milder infections, both influenza A and influenza B viruses can cause severe illness that may even result in death.

Recently, parts of Georgia have experienced widespread flu outbreaks. The spike in flu cases has affected many schools in southern Georgia, which have reported an uptick in illness among students that has led to the absence of over 10% of the student population in the Southwest Health District. School health officials are urging parents to keep their children that have fallen ill home until they are no longer contagious, and are emphasizing the importance of handwashing to prevent spreading the flu to healthy students. Georgia’s Department of Public Health has seen its influenza-like illness intensity indicator remain high for several weeks, though dispersion of the flu has dropped from widespread to regional.

In Texas, health officials are predicting that the state’s flu season may last longer than usual this year, with the potential to run into May. While overall flu activity has slightly decreased statewide, influenza activity in Texas is now regional while the intensity of influenza-like illness is high. The state has already reported two flu-related pediatric deaths so far this season, and a recent news report notes that Dallas County health officials have reported a total of 13 flu-related deaths since October 2nd. Flu season appears to have peaked in the state and may now be on the decline, however, in such a busy flu season that has been marked by severe illness, health experts say that new cases may continue to appear for several more weeks.

The flu shot this season has reduced a vaccinated individual’s risk of infection by about 48%, and now, a researcher from the University of Texas has invented a new tool that may further assist in the fight against the flu. Perena Gouma, PhD, has developed a breath monitor that can identify the flu in individuals infected with the virus; this could offer a way to detect the flu early, and thus, prevent transmission. After publishing a paper on her work in the journal Sensors, Dr. Gouma notes the potential of such a device. “I think that technology like this is going to revolutionize personalized diagnostics,” she said in a recent press release. “This will allow people to be proactive and catch illnesses early.”

Advancements such as this one adds to the arsenal of knowledge that researchers have against the flu, and hopefully, they can use this knowledge so that as the next flu season comes along, less individuals will fall ill.