FRIDAY, Jan. 4, 2019 — The flu is now spreading throughout the United States, health officials said Friday.
Since last week, when nine states and New York City were reporting high flu activity, 19 states and New York City are now seeing a lot of flu, and it’s widespread in 24 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The season is really starting to pick up,” said Lynnette Brammer, the lead of CDC’s domestic influenza surveillance team.
The most common type of flu around is the influenza A strain H1N1. That strain has been circulating and was pandemic in 2009 and in 1918.
In 1918, H1N1 flu killed 50 million people around the world. But the current vaccine works exceedingly well against H1N1 — it is up to 65 percent effective, which is highly effective for a flu vaccine, according to the CDC.
“H1N1 is the most common [strain] in most of the country,” Brammer said. “But it’s odd that in the Southeast, the H3N2 virus is more common.”
The influenza A H3N2 strain is the one that made last year’s flu season so severe. When that strain predominated, nearly 1 million Americans were hospitalized and 80,000 died.
According to the CDC, flu activity is high in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
It’s too early to tell how severe this season will be or what the mix of viruses will be, Brammer said. Right now, the hospitalization rate is still relatively low compared with last year, and deaths are still below epidemic levels, she said.
“But as we see a jump in activity as we did this week, we would expect an increase in hospitalizations, and unfortunately, probably an increase in mortality,” Brammer said.
The CDC doesn’t track adult deaths from flu, but they do keep tabs on pediatric deaths. This week two more children have died from flu, bringing the total to 13.
“There’s still a lot more flu season to come,” she said. “I expect activity to continue for several more weeks.”
The best way to protect yourself and those around you is to get a flu shot, and there’s still plenty of time to get vaccinated, Brammer said.
“Anybody who hasn’t been vaccinated should go and get vaccinated,” she said. This year’s vaccine is well matched to the circulating strains of flu and a lot of vaccine is available, Brammer added.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated. Getting your kids their flu shot is the best way to protect them and prevent deaths from the complications of flu, she said.
Getting a flu shot should be at the top of the list for those at high risk for flu, including the elderly and people with heart disease or lung disease and pregnant women.
Getting vaccinated won’t guarantee that you won’t come down with flu, but if you do, your illness will be milder, health experts say.
If you get the flu, antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza can make your illness less severe. But if you’re sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home so you won’t infect others.
Brammer can’t predict when the flu season will peak, but it most likely won’t be until the end of February or March. So there’s still a long way to go, she said.
For more on the flu, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Posted: January 2019