The flu season is still a bad one and it’s broken a few recent records, federal health officials said Friday.
It’s not time to panic about a new pandemic — it is simply a relatively severe flu season, one that’s unusual in that it is hitting the whole country at once instead of in waves, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
“Influenza activity is still on the rise overall,” CDC’s acting director, Dr. Anne Schuchat,
Every year, influenza between 12,000 and 49,000 people and can send more than 700,000 people to the hospital, the CDC says. It affects so many people that adult cases and deaths can only be estimated.
“This is a difficult season and we can’t predict how much longer the intense flu activity will last,” Schuchat said.
“This season, we are on track to break some recent records.” Flu is sickening and hospitalizing Americans at rates not seen in nearly a decade, and the season is getting worse, federal health officials said Friday.
In the latest update, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 10 new and the highest flu hospitalization rate since the agency started keeping comparable records in 2010. It reported the highest rate of flu-like illnesses since the flu pandemic of 2009.
“We don’t know if we have hit the peak yet,” said Anne Schuchat, acting CDC director. “We could potentially see several more weeks of increased flu activity.”
Although deaths among — at 63 — and adults have not been extremely high, it is possible they could increase in line with hospitalization rates, she said. It is not clear why this flu season is so intense and so unusually widespread — causing wide swaths of misery in 48 states and high levels of illness in 43 of them as of Feb. 3.
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The virus causing the most illness has been around for decades. Scientists are studying circulating viruses to see whether anything unusual is going on, Schuchat said.
There are early indications, including data from Australia and Canada, that vaccination against H3N2 was less effective than usual this year, in the range of 10% to 17%, instead of the usual 30% or so.
Schuchat said people should still get the flu vaccine and noted that strains better controlled by vaccines are becoming more common as the season progresses — and can even infect people who have already had the flu.
“There is a lot of fear and alarm about this flu season,” Schuchat said. Most and adults who get sick will recover at home without complications, she said. She urged parents who see signs of worsening illness in a child — such as difficulty breathing or a fever that goes away, then returns — to seek immediate medical care.
“This season is a wake-up call about how severe influenza can be and how we can never let our guard down,” she said. And more people are showing up with flu-like symptoms — 7.7 percent of all doctor visits, which hasn’t been seen since 2003-2004, with the exception of the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic in 2009.