The number of children who have died of flu this season increased to 162 following reports of seven more deaths.
Deaths among children are higher than during the same period in every other season since reporting started in 2004-’05 with the exception of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. Nearly two-thirds of the deaths were due to influenza B viruses, which are known to cause severe illness in children.
Hospitalization rates for children also are unusually high. Children ages 4 and under have been hospitalized at a rate of 93.9 per 100,000 children, the highest CDC has on record for this age group, surpassing rates during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Rates for children ages 5-17 are 24.4 per 100,000, higher than any recent regular season but lower than during the H1N1 pandemic.
Overall, about 6.4% of outpatient visits were for flu during the week ending March 28, up from 5.8% the week before. However, the CDC noted that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting health care-seeking behavior.
“The number of persons and their reasons for seeking care in the outpatient and ED settings is changing,” the CDC said in its weekly FluView report. “These changes impact data in … ways that are difficult to differentiate from changes in illness levels.” The data should therefore be interpreted with caution, the agency added.
The CDC estimates about 39 million people have gotten sick with flu, 400,000 have been hospitalized and 24,000 have died this season.
Flu activity confirmed by clinical laboratories continues to decrease and is now low.
The AAP and CDC recommend everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated. Physicians with high-risk patients who have contracted the virus should treat them promptly with antivirals.
For the 2020-’21 season, pediatricians can use either flu shots or nasal spray flu vaccines for their patients. The AAP is keeping its recommendation the same as this season’s, noting that any licensed, age-appropriate vaccine is acceptable.