Editor's note: An updated flu story is available at http://www.aappublications.org/news/2018/02/16/flu021618.
Flu activity is as high as the height of the 2009 pandemic, and child deaths have climbed to 63, health officials said Friday.
The virus continues to be widespread in all states except Oregon and Hawaii, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Almost everything we’re looking at is bad news,” said CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “The one bright spot is the H3N2 virus numbers are coming down and those are the more severe strains we think, so we have to keep being vigilant.”
The 63 pediatric deaths include 10 reported during the week ending Feb. 3, according to the CDC’s latest data. Pediatric deaths in previous seasons have ranged from 37 to 171 and reached 358 in 2009.
The percent of visits to outpatient clinics and emergency departments for influenza-like illness has grown to 7.7%, topping the previous high of 7.6% in a regular year and matching the peak of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
“This doesn’t mean we’re having a pandemic,” Dr. Schuchat said. “… This is a signal of how very intense flu season has been.”
The hospitalization rate for flu-related illness has been 59.9 per 100,000 population, the highest rate since tracking began in 2010 and nearly as high as the end of the severe 2014-’15 season.
Elevated flu activity typically lasts 11-20 weeks, and it is only week 11, so Dr. Schuchat continued to urge everyone 6 months and older to be vaccinated.
“I know there are ongoing concerns about whether the flu vaccine will be effective this year and it’s true that flu vaccines often have lower effectiveness against H3N2 viruses,” she said. “However, some protection is better than none.”
People who are very old, very young, pregnant women and people with chronic conditions are at highest risk of complications. Signs of severe flu include persistent high fever, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, significant fatigue and feeling better followed by feeling much worse, according to Dr. Schuchat.
Clinicians who suspect flu in these patients should begin antiviral treatment immediately, she said. While there have been spot shortages of antivirals, manufacturers have said they have enough product overall.