Worst Flu Season in Nearly a Decade

This year’s flu season is now more intense than any since the 2009 swine flu pandemic and still getting worse, federal health officials said on Friday.


Nationally, the number of people falling ill with flu is increasing. More worrying, the hospitalization rate — a predictor of the death rate — has just jumped.

It is now on track to equal or surpass that of the 2014-2015 flu season. In that year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, 34 million Americans got the flu, 710,000 were hospitalized and about 56,000 died.

“We’ll expect something around those numbers,” Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, director of the C.D.C.’s influenza division, said during a telephone news conference Friday.

This week, the deaths of seven children were reported to the C.D.C., bringing this season’s total to 37. In 2014-2015, there were 148 pediatric deaths — which the agency tracks individually, not by estimates as it does with death totals.

It is too early to estimate how many children will die this season, Dr. Jernigan said, because it still has weeks to run, and because the agency often does not learn of deaths — especially of children who die at home — until weeks after they take place.

Despite the late date, the agency still recommends that Americans get flu shots. Because some doctors and pharmacies have none left, Dr. Jernigan suggested checking vaccinefinder.org to find providers with stocks.

Some areas also have shortages of antivirals like Tamiflu, he said, and the C.D.C. is trying to help the supply chain move medicines to where they are needed most.

More people fell ill during the 2009 “swine flu” pandemic, but that was a new virus. This year’s dominant virus, H3N2, has been circulating for 50 years — it emerged as the “Hong Kong flu” in 1968 — but it is usually the most lethal of the seasonal strains.

H3N2 also was responsible for bad seasonal flu years in 1997-1998 and 2003-2004, Dr. Jernigan said.

As is typical, people over 65 are the most likely to be hospitalized. But in an unusual twist, those aged 50 to 64 — rather than infants — are the age cohort right behind the elderly.

“Baby boomers have higher hospitalization rates than their grandchildren right now,” Dr. Jernigan said.

Source credit https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/health/flu-rates-deaths.html