Jan. 23, 2015 – The flu is still widespread in a majority of states, and flu-related hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise, the CDC says.
The worst might not be over: It’s too soon to tell whether this flu season has peaked. Since it began early, it might last longer than the average of about 13 weeks, according to the agency.
We’re in the ninth week of a particularly bad season, complicated by a flu vaccine that offers less protection than hoped.
Flu seasons in which H3 viruses, including this year’s H3N2, are the main flu strain tend to be worse, with longer-lasting and more severe illnesses. Also, CDC officials have said this year’s vaccine cuts the risk of needing medical treatment for symptoms by about 23% on average. Compared to past seasons, that's on the low side -- flu shot effectiveness has ranged from 10% to 60% since the CDC started measuring how well flu vaccines work in 2005.
But experts say getting vaccinated is still a good idea. The flu shot still offers some protection, and it might fight off other strains.
Forty-four states reported widespread flu activity for the week ending Jan. 17, down from 46 states the previous week. Significant flu activity was reported by five states -- Alabama, Georgia, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Tennessee.
Eleven more flu-associated child deaths were reported, bringing this season’s total to 56. Deaths of children from the flu have ranged from 37 to 171 since 2004-2005, when they began to be reported. That's with the exception of the 2009-2010 H1N1 flu pandemic, in which there were 279 child deaths.
People over 65 have been the hardest-hit this year, with a hospitalization rate above that from the 2012-2013 flu season, in which the main strain was also H3N2. Hospitalization rates overall have also risen from last week.
While the CDC doesn’t track adult deaths from the flu, the number of deaths from pneumonia or the flu “continues to climb sharply” and remains above the “epidemic” threshold, the agency says.
People with flu symptoms should tell their doctor, because antiviral medicines can reduce the flu’s severity, CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, has said. The agency has issued a reminder to doctors to use the drugs when needed, and Frieden said doctors don’t need to get flu test results before prescribing them.
Stay home if you’re sick, and wash your hands often to avoid catching the flu or another virus.