Bad Flu Season Gets Worse

Influenza Is Widespread in 43 States

This year’s already nasty flu season has taken a turn for the worse in recent days. The latest update issued January 5 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows influenza is now widespread in 43 states—up from 36 states the previous week. Six children died of the flu last week, raising the total number of childhood fatalities for this year’s flu season to 21.

According to a CBS News report, the CDC reported last week that this year’s flu outbreak officially reached epidemic level. Flu-related hospitalizations are already double what they were this time last year, with people age 65 and over at greatest risk, followed by children 4 years old or younger.

The CDC says high levels of illness were being reported in 29 states as of December 27, a jump from 22 states a week earlier.

The strain of the virus that’s dominant this year, Influenza A H3N2, is considered “nasty,” in that it tends to cause more severe illness, both for the elderly and the very young.

In addition, this strain of the virus is not well-matched to the current vaccine, making flu shots less effective than normal. Health officials estimate this year’s flu vaccine will only protect about a third of the time, although they still recommend people get the vaccine since some protection is better than nothing.

For those who do come down with the flu, a physician can prescribe medication to lessen the length and severity of the illness. Antiviral drugs marketed as Tamiflu and Relenza can help if taken within the first few days of developing symptoms; on December 19, the FDA approved another medicine called Rapivab.

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