The floodgates have opened on the flu, with millions of people across the United States reporting illness and nearly 3,000 flu deaths since early October, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With the start of the holiday season and large family gatherings, cases are expected to continue to rise.
“We will likely see an increase in the coming weeks,” Lynnette Brammer, epidemiologist and team leader of the CDC’s National Influenza Surveillance Team, told NBC News.
So far this season, about 6.2 million flu cases have been recorded, according to the latest data from the CDC.
Twelve of the flu deaths were in children.
Of the samples reported to the CDC this season, about 76% are of the H3N2 strain of influenza A. The rest are H1N1. Both versions of the flu can cause serious illness.
However, most flu patients sick enough to end up in the intensive care unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville have tested positive for H1N1, said Dr. Todd Rice, director of the care unit. VUMC medical intensives.
“People don’t have a good appreciation of how serious flu is,” Brammer said.
Influenza made an uncharacteristic appearance earlier this year, along with Covid and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which flooded hospital systems. Several years of limited viral activity have meant that few people have an immune system capable of fighting the most virulent infectious diseases.
“We are dealing with three highly contagious respiratory viruses,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, White House Covid-19 task force coordinator. “Our expectation is that we will probably see an increase in the coming weeks,” especially with flu and Covid.
RSV’s push, however, may have peaked, Jha said. “At the national level, the numbers seem to be dropping,” Jha said. “We’ll want to see over the next few weeks where that happens. But the preliminary evidence right now is quite encouraging.”
Why is this flu season so harsh?
Typical flu seasons intensify in December, peaking in January or February, said Dr. Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
With the early start of the flu season this year, many people were infected before they had a chance to get vaccinated, making it easier for the virus to spread.
“There was a larger pool of unvaccinated people than there would have been in regular seasons,” said Morita, who is also a former Chicago public health commissioner. “That might explain why we’re seeing such high disease rates right now.”
CDC’s latest influenza activity data shows ‘very high’ spread across much of the country, especially Arkansas, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, Carolina South, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, as well as New York City and Washington, D.C.
There is no evidence that the spread of the flu will die down anytime soon.
“It’s a safe bet that influenza activity is going to continue for several weeks or months,” Brammer said.
Intensive care units are already seeing an increase in the number of sickest patients.
“Three weeks ago we weren’t seeing a lot of flu in our intensive care unit,” Rice said. “Then the floodgates opened.”
Today, 30 to 40 percent of Rice’s most intensive care patients have the flu.
It blames, in part, the early arrival of the flu.
“It resulted in more people being at risk because there were fewer people vaccinated.”
Follow BNC HEALTH on Twitter & Facebook.
#flu #arrived #early #United #States #floodgates #open