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CDC: Pediatric flu deaths double last season

February 3, 2023

More than twice as many children have died of flu this season compared to last season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The death toll among children and adolescents has risen to 97. In the last two seasons, when more COVID mitigation strategies like masking were in place, there were 45 deaths and one death respectively.

After a spike in flu activity in late November, outpatient visits for respiratory illness have dropped to 2.6%, just above baseline. Most regions are seeing minimal or low activity. However, outpatient visits for flu-like illness remain high or very high in Oklahoma, New York City, New Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Across all ages, the cumulative hospitalization rate is 58.6 per 100,000 people — about 1.1 times higher than the highest rate in any season at this time going back to 2010-’11. Children under 5 years have the second highest hospitalization rate of any age group this season at 78 per 100,000 children.

The CDC estimates flu has caused at least 25 million illnesses, 280,000 hospitalizations and 17,000 deaths this season.

The AAP and CDC recommend everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated to protect them from flu. Most of the flu viruses detected so far this season have been influenza A(H3N2), and most viruses tested are similar to those in this season’s vaccine. Approximately 51.1% of children have received an influenza vaccine this season, nearly three percentage points lower than at the same time in 2020. CDC data show racial disparities in vaccination status of children and adolescents. About 44% of Black youths have been vaccinated this season compared to 52% of Hispanic youths, 52% of White youths and 56% of youths of other races/ethnicities.

The CDC has stressed the importance of starting patients on an antiviral as soon as possible when indicated. While supplies of oseltamivir are limited in some areas, federal officials recently announced they would increase access through the Strategic National Stockpile. Other options also are available. The CDC released interim guidance last month on handling limited supplies. It said priority should go to patients at highest risk of severe disease, patients who are hospitalized and patients who test positive for influenza within two days of illness onset. More details are available in the guidance.

 

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