US flu season hasn’t been this bad in over a decade


The flu season accelerated early in the United States and flu hospitalizations are worse than usual for this time of year, according to data released Friday by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .

It has been more than a decade – since the H1N1 swine flu pandemic – since flu-related hospitalization rates have been this high at this point in the season.

The CDC estimates that there have been at least 880,000 illnesses, nearly 7,000 hospitalizations and 360 deaths from influenza in the United States this season. The first pediatric death in the country was reported this week.

Getting a flu shot is still the best way to protect yourself, experts say. And the best time to do it is now.

“Please take it this afternoon. Don’t linger,” said Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“We’re in a bit of a race against the virus,” he said, with flu season starting at least a month earlier than usual. And it takes between 10 days and two weeks for the vaccine to provide full protection.

As in previous years, the CDC recommended that people get their flu shot before the end of October. But flu vaccination rates are below average for this time of year.

About 128 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed this season, up from 140 million at this point last year and 156 million the year before, according to CDC data.

Even though the current season has started early, there are more than enough reasons for those who haven’t had their chance now, Schaffner said.

“I would like to assure everyone who has not yet received it that it is not too late,” he said. And “the recommendations couldn’t be simpler”: anyone 6 months of age or older in the United States is eligible and recommended to get the flu shot, with rare exceptions.

“Flu season will be with us for at least a few more months. We don’t know if it will be shorter or longer than usual,” Schaffner said. “There are still very good reasons to get your protection from the vaccine.”

And vaccinated people can still get sick – but the purpose of the vaccine is to protect against the most serious consequences and complications.

“We can recognize that the flu vaccine is not perfect. It cannot fully protect everyone against the flu,” he said. “They help you stay out of the emergency room, the hospital, the intensive care unit, and they protect you from dying. As I used to say to my patients, “I’m so glad you’re still here to complain.” ”

Overall, CDC data shows the share of lab tests positive for influenza has more than doubled in the past two weeks and influenza activity is highest in the South. Additional data from Walgreens tracking prescriptions for antiviral treatments — such as Tamiflu — suggests hotspots in the Gulf Coast region, including Houston and New Orleans.

And flu season is heating up amid the surge of RSV that is filling children’s hospitals and an ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Eleven states — along with Washington, DC and New York — are reporting high or very high levels of respiratory disease, according to the CDC.

The wave of respiratory viruses could get worse before it gets better, Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, said Thursday.

She urged people to try to prevent any respiratory illnesses, including getting Covid-19 shots and boosters, and the annual flu shot.

“It’s even more important to make sure your children and anyone over 6 months old in your family get their flu shots this year, because we haven’t seen a lot of flu in recent years, and so everything the world enters this season with less immunity, less protection from previous infections,” Rajapakse said.

People at risk for complications from respiratory illness, including the elderly and those with underlying conditions, should contact their healthcare provider as soon as they start noticing symptoms, Schaffner said. There are treatments for Covid-19 and the flu that provide additional protection against serious consequences, he said.

“From a respiratory virus perspective, the winter season started early,” Schaffner said. “If you develop symptoms, please do not go to school or work. Take some shelter at home so as not to spread the virus, whatever it is.

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