A new influenza vaccine, the global burden of the flu in children, and the CDC’s latest numbers on the flu disease dominates the flu update this month.
While clinical laboratories have reported high flu activity, the overall numbers have decreased for the fourth week in a row, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of March 13th.
However, they noted that due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, health care-seeking behaviors may differ and their data may have been impacted.
The most commonly reported flu virus this season is the influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, the CDC’s update said. The agency also reported an increase of the cumulative hospitalization rate for the season, to 61.6 per 100,000. They additionally reported 8 new pediatric deaths associated with the flu, bringing this season’s total to 144 so far. The percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia and the flu is 7.1% which is notable because it is below the epidemic threshold of 7.3%.
From the start of flu season (October 2019) through March 7th, the CDC reports there have been between 36 and 51 million flu illnesses, between 17 and 24 million flu medical visits, 370-670,000 flu hospitalizations and 22,000-55,000 flu deaths.
A Washington Post investigation found that the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Washington believed they were dealing with a flu going around their facility in February. Eventually, they determined that their facility was the first deadly cluster of the novel coronavirus.
“Records, interviews and a close examination of information released by the nursing home and authorities point to a series of missed opportunities to limit exposure to the spreading coronavirus at the Kirkland home,” the Post wrote.
So, what’s the difference between the flu and coronavirus?
Experts say that those with coronavirus typically develop symptoms similar to the flu but may also develop gastrointestinal symptoms. While flu symptoms can resolve in about a week, the coronavirus seems to have more severe symptoms such as dry cough, shortness of breath, a sore throat, fever and aches, according to a comparison of the viruses from The New York Times.
In other influenza news:
Much of the influenza-associated burden occurs among infants and low- and lower-middle-income countries, according to a paper published in The Lancet Global Health. The investigators, funded by the WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, estimated the regional and global burden of flu-linked respiratory infections in children under 5 based on previously published studies. Based on what they found, there were about 109.5 million flu virus episodes among children under 5 worldwide. The flu accounted for 7% of acute lower respiratory infection (ALRI) cases, 5% of ALRI hospital admissions, and 4% of ALRI deaths, they said.