The flu has been spreading fiercely across the United States, with more than half of states reporting widespread activity. The season has started earlier, and cases are more severe than last year, health officials say.
The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flu advisory report, which covers the week of December 23 to 29, suggests that 41 states have widespread influenza activity, which was an increase of 31 states from the previous week. The CDC is expected to issue a statement about the situation.
There have so far been 2,257 hospitalizations associated with laboratory-confirmed flu virus, the CDC report said. Among children, there have been 18 deaths reported during this season.
In Massachusetts, one of the 29 states that the CDC has identified as having high activity of influenza-like illness, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency in the city because of the flu.
Since October 1, there have been 700 confirmed influenza cases among Boston residents, according to Menino’s office; that’s 10 times more than were seen in all of last year’s flu season.
Menino is collaborating with the Boston Public Health Commission and community health centers to offer free vaccination clinics this weekend. The mayor urged residents to stay home from work or school if they are sick, and to get their flu shots.
“This is the worst flu season we’ve seen since 2009, and people should take the threat of flu seriously,” Menino said in a statement. More than 4% of emergency department visits at Boston hospitals are from flu cases, up from 1% during non-flu season.
Massachusetts General Hospital has already counted 532 cases of flu among patients, which is more than the hospital saw in any of the previous three flu seasons, said spokeswoman Kristen Stanton.
Why Is The Flu Spreading Faster?
According to CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, H3N2 is the predominant strain this year. It’s generally associated with a severe flu season. “The strains we are seeing suggest this could be a bad flu year,” Frieden said. “But this year’s vaccine is an excellent match with the influenza that’s circulating.”
Dr. Melinda Wharton, Acting Director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, says current flu activity is highest in the South.
“We’re seeing the highest level in the southeastern and south central region of the United States,” she said. “Five states had high levels: Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. Moderate levels of illness have been recorded in Missouri and Georgia.”
Flu cases typically peak in February, according to the CDC.
The CDC says about 123 million doses of the vaccine have already been distributed to health care providers, and about 112 million people have already been vaccinated.
Among doctors, nurses and pharmacists, about 80% to 90% have already been vaccinated, Frieden said, along with almost half of all pregnant women. The number of children being vaccinated has also increased. “I encourage everyone 6 months and up to get vaccinated,” Frieden said.
Each year there are approximately 200,000 hospitalizations for flu-related illnesses.