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Flu Season in U.S.: Deaths, Hospitalizations Mount

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Feb. 2, 2018 -- Flu season in the U.S. is in its 10th week, but CDC officials can't say if it has peaked yet.

"We aren't out of the woods yet," Anne Schuchat, MD, acting director of the CDC, said at a Friday morning briefing.

Parents should be aware that the flu epidemic is taking a fatal toll on children: 16 kids died from the flu or flu-related problems in the past week, bringing the total of pediatric deaths to 53 for the season.

"Unfortunately, flu activity is still high and widespread across most of the nation and increasing overall," Schuchat said.

In January, 49 states had widespread activity. "This week, 48 states still do," she said. Oregon is the only state reporting less flu activity.

Flu seasons typically last 11 to 20 weeks, she said.

"We probably have several weeks left of increased flu activity. We do not know if we have hit the peak. The length of this season is not unusual, but the hospitalizations are," she said.

"Overall, hospitalizations are now the highest we have seen, even higher than the 2014-2015 season, our previous high season," Schuchat said. From October until the end of January, nearly 15,000 people were admitted to hospitals because of the flu.

During the 2014-2015 season, 148 children died of flu-related problems.

The strain known as H3N2, an influenza A virus, is still causing most people to get sick. But H1N1, another influenza A type, as well as influenza B strains, are also causing sickness, she said.

It's not too late to get the flu vaccine, Schuchat said. As of mid-January, more than 152 million doses had been given nationwide. And although the vaccine has not been very effective against H3N2, ''its effectiveness against other flu viruses is better," she said.

While CDC officials continue to hear about spot shortages of prescription antiviral drugs, which can shorten the illness if given within 2 days of the symptoms starting, Schuchat said manufacturers confirm there are supplies of them. To find antivirals, people may have to call several pharmacies, she said.

Parents should keep an eye on their children as well, she said. According to the CDC, about half of those hospitalized for flu had no other health problems.

People who are sick, or worried sick, and head to emergency rooms for themselves or their children should take precautions, Schuchat said. "It is important to take steps to protect yourself," she said. "Most ERs have masks right at the door." Children without the flu are showing up in emergency rooms with worried parents, only to actually catch the flu in the ER waiting room.

Schuchat said instead of heading for the ER, adults and parents worried their child has the flu should first call their pediatrician or a nurse hotline if they aren't sure if symptoms need immediate help at the ER, Schuchat said.

Which symptoms should trigger immediate concern? "In general, worrisome signs are a very high, persistent fever, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, significant tiredness, or confusion," she said.

''Getting better and then getting worse can indicate a secondary bacterial infection," Schuchat said. Seek help if that happens, she said.

In hard-hit California, emergency room directors say they try to separate those who come in with suspected flu from others without flu symptoms. "We do provide masks and offer them to flu-like illness patients," says Wally Ghurabi, DO, medical director of the Nethercutt Emergency Center -- UCLA Healthcare, Santa Monica.

WebMD Article Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on February 02, 2018

Sources

Briefing, CDC, Feb. 2, 2018.

Wally Ghurabi, DO, medical director, Nethercutt Emergency Center -- UCLA Healthcare, Santa Monica, CA.

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