Jan. 12, 2018 -- More people are getting the flu across the U.S., closing schools and filling hospitals, the CDC says.
“We’re seeing a very active flu season and early signs that the season may be severe,” Dan Jernigan, MD, of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), said at a news briefing.
He said it was the first time in 13 years that the CDC’s flu map has been the same color across all mainland states, “meaning that there is widespread activity in all the continental U.S. at this point.”
Twenty children have died of the flu so far, the CDC says.
Health officials are hopeful that this year’s flu season is peaking -- much the way it did in 2014-2015 -- and that the number of people sickened will soon start to fall. But that only means the first half of the season has passed. Midpoint in flu season typically means about 3 more months until activity dies down to regular levels.
“It still means we have a lot more flu to go,” said Jernigan, director of the CDC’s Influenza Division at the NCIRD.
On Thursday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a statewide public health emergency to help hospitals that are filled to capacity with flu patients.
So far this season, most U.S. cases have been caused by H3N2, an A strain of the flu, which tends to cause more severe illness, especially among children and older adults.
Jernigan said the early flu season could mean that we’ll see a second peak in the spring if other strains of the flu begin to take hold.
If you haven’t had your flu vaccine yet, there’s still time to get one, and he encouraged people to do that as their first line of defense.
Jernigan said that so far this year, the U.S. flu vaccine has been about 30% effective against the dominant H3N2 strain. The vaccine tends to offer more protection against B strains of the flu, and he said health officials know that current ones aren’t good enough.
“We are very well aware that we need to have better flu vaccines,” he said.
Patients in some hard-hit areas are also dealing with shortages of antiviral drugs. These drugs can make the illness shorter and milder if they're taken as soon as symptoms start.
Jernigan said that most people who get the flu will have a mild illness and won’t need antiviral medications.
Those who should seek them out are:
- Those with severe symptoms
- Pregnant women
- Children under age 5
- Older adults
- People with medical conditions like diabetes or heart disease
He advised people who are trying to fill a prescription for an antiviral to call ahead to their pharmacy to make sure it's in stock.
“We also know you can reduce your risk of getting the flu through everyday good health habits like covering your mouth when you cough and frequently washing your hands,” said CDC director Brenda Fitzgerald, MD.
She also urged people who are sick to stay home to help limit the spread of the flu and other respiratory diseases.