More people have been sent to the hospital with the flu this season than in almost a decade, and in the last week 16 more children have died, according to federal health officials.
This year at least 53 children have died from the virus and 80 percent of them had the vaccine.
The pace of the infection is unusual. A high number of people have been infected across the country, and last week the number of people seeking care for flu-like symptoms has spiked. The rate of infection is almost as high as the swine-flu pandemic in 2009. This data comes from the latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat said the virus is “one of the biggest health threats facing the country.”
Half of the children who died from the virus had no underlying conditions. During the week of Jan. 27, more states reported a high number of patients with flu-like symptoms, according to the head of the CDC influenza division, Daniel Jernigan.
Schuchat warned people to be aware of symptoms that could indicate sever illness. These symptoms include a high persistent fever, difficulty breathing, rapid heartrate, and significant fatigue or confusion. Additionally, if a child appears to be improving and suddenly worsens could be showing signs of a secondary bacterial infection.
This season’s hospitalization rate is 51.4 per 100,000 people. This is significantly higher than the rate of 43.5 during the 2014-15 season. This high rate of hospitalization concerns health officials. In California, hospitalization rates are four times higher than they were in 2014-15, double in Oregon and Minnesota.
Jernigan is concerned that the death toll could also exceed the 2014-15 season. That year there were 56,000 flu-related deaths, 710,000 people were hospitalized and 16 million sought care from a doctor, clinic, or hospital.
There are some indications flu epidemic is peaking in the West. However, Schuchat says, “we are by no means out of the woods.” The flu continues to increase in the East and unchanged in the South.
Even though the season is well underway, it is not too late to be vaccinated. Health officials are encouraging people to get a flu shot. The season has not yet peaked, and some protection can help lessen the risks of hospitalization or death. The nation’s season has already crossed the 10-week threshold and there are indications that there are many more weeks ahead. The average influenza duration is 16 weeks, but it can last up to 20 weeks.
Health officials are unsure how effective the vaccine will be against the three flu strains: H3N2, H1N1, and the B virus are the most prevalent. According to health officials, the vaccine is approximately 32 percent effective against spreading the H3N2 viruses. However, a recent study conducted by Canadian researchers suggests the vaccine is only 17 percent effective in preventing the H3N2 virus. Interim reports from Australia indicate it is only 10 percent effective. Nevertheless, the vaccine does offer some protection.
In New Jersey, there have been over 7,300 flu cases confirmed this season and one child death.
Health officials warn that the season can continue through May and vaccination is the best defense against the worst of the flu. It takes two weeks, after receiving the vaccine, for the body to produce antibodies that provide protection against the virus, according to the CDC.
Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness. It can be mild, severe, and can lead to death. The CDC listed the following symptoms to look for:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Children may experience vomiting and diarrhea
Those who should not get vaccinated, include children under 6 months and people who have severe, life-threatening allergies to any of the vaccine’s ingredients.
Fever is not always a symptom of the virus. People can have the respiratory symptoms without a fever. This makes it difficult to tell if one has the flu based on symptoms alone. It is important to seek medical attention if the occurs, according to the CDC.
Emergency rooms are filled with people experiencing flu-like symptoms. This puts the staff and other patients at risk. This also puts people who go to the emergency room with mild symptoms at risk. They may not have the flu but could likely leave with the virus.
According to the CDC, 53 children have died from the virus so far, this season. Generally, flu season peaks in February or March, however, it could last through May. This season will be longer than last year as it has not peaked.
People who are sick should avoid being around others as much as possible. Do not go to work or school with the virus. It will only spread the illness further. Those who must leave home need to cover all coughs and sneezes (elbow coughs are good, wearing a mask is best), and wash their hands often. Remain in the home for at least 24 hours after the fever has lifted without medication, as recommended by the CDC.
Antivirals can help people recover faster and prevent more serious complications. The CDC reports that the best FDA approved antiviral medications for this season are:
- Temiflu (Oseltamivir)
- Relenza (Zanamivir)
- Rapivab (Peramivir)
By Jeanette Smith
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: This flu season’s hospitalizations are now the highest in nearly a decade
NJ.com: Flu epidemic 2018: Is it too late to get a shot, how to spot symptoms, update on deaths and more
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