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Schools Close in Response to Most Severe Flu Season Since 2009

As flu cases continue to rapidly increase this season, school districts around the country have taken to closing schools in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

In an update on the widespread flu activity impacting much of the United States, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the country is experiencing its most severe flu season since the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) pandemic.

Week 3 ending on January 20, 2018, was the third week in a row with 49 states reporting widespread flu activity. In addition, New York City, Puerto Rico, and 39 states reported high activity levels of influenza-like illness during week 3, an increase of 7 states from the total reported in the previous week’s FluView report. Furthermore, the proportion of outpatient visits for ILI rose from 6.3% the previous week to 6.6%.

The CDC held a conference on January 26, 2018, to update the public on the status of flu activity in the United States. While the agency officials note that flu activity has begun to decline in some parts of the country, it remains high for most of the country and is still on the rise in some places. The 2017-2018 flu season has been dominated by influenza A (H3N2), which typically results in a more severe flu season with lower vaccine effectiveness rates than during seasons in which influenza A (H1N1) viruses predominate. As such, the United States is seeing its highest levels of flu activity since the 2009 flu season, when a novel H1N1 virus brought the proportion of outpatient visits for ILI to 7.7%.

“The flu season has continued to be challenging and flu has been intense across the United States,” said CDC director Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, during the conference. “I am saddened to tell you that there have been 7 more pediatric deaths reported just this week. A total of 37 so far for this season. The most important things to remember are, one, protect yourself from flu by washing your hands often, especially if you are caring for someone who is sick. Protect others by staying home, seeing a doctor if you are sick, and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze. And remember it’s not too late to get a flu shot for yourself and for your child.”

The rapid increase in cases has affected all ages, said the CDC’s director of the influenza division Daniel Jernigan, MD, MPH, but has been higher in children. Across the country, there have been news reports of flu outbreaks causing school closures of a day or more. In Oklahoma, at least 8 school districts have canceled classes in response to flu outbreaks. The Oklahoma State Department of Health has reported more than 2,000 flu-related hospitalizations so far this season, along with 74 flu deaths since September 1, 2017.

Texas has also seen several school closings, including in Dallas where school officials have sought the closures to prevent further spread of the flu and conduct deep cleaning. The area has been hit hard by the virus, with Dallas County’s Health and Human Services department recently announcing 6 new flu deaths there, bringing the county’s total to 49 flu deaths this season. “Older adults, individuals with chronic health conditions, pregnant women, young children, and infants are more vulnerable to flu illness,” said DCHHS medical director Christopher Perkins, DO, MPH, in a recent statement. “With influenza activity on the rise, individuals in these groups should take special precaution as we continue throughout the season.”

Health officials in Dallas are reminding the public that along with getting vaccinated, individuals can help prevent the spread of the flu by washing hands, keeping sick family members at home, and avoiding close contact with anyone who is coughing and appears to be ill.