More than six million Americans have been infected with the flu and nearly 3,000 have died from the disease so far since October – in the worst outbreak in a decade.
The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also show that there were 53,000 hospitalizations during this period.
A total of 18 states reported “very high” flu levels in the week ending Nov. 19, four more than in the previous seven-day period. New Mexico, Texas and Tennessee are the hardest hit.
The US flu season began early this year, with seasonal viruses surging back after shutdowns, face masks and other measures prevented exposure to healthy germs.
The wave of illnesses has also caused shortages of key drugs, including amoxicillin, a first-line children’s drug, used to treat fever in children.
The chart above shows the number of positive flu tests reported to the CDC by week through Nov. 19, the latest week available. Cases continue to rise after season started weeks earlier than expected
A total of 18 states now have very high flu levels, with three of them – New Mexico, Tennessee and Texas – facing the highest levels in the country. That was four more than at the same time the week before
The CDC releases weekly flu estimates of the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the disease throughout the season.
The latest infection figures are 36% higher than the 4.4 million cases estimated over the previous week, and more than double the 2.8 million a fortnight ago.
Deaths also jumped from 1,300 recorded a fortnight earlier.
The hospitalization rate was 11.3 admissions per 100,000 people in the week to Nov. 19, higher than at any time at this time of year since 2010-11.
Flu cases now account for 66% of the total number of infections recorded throughout last year, when there were 9 million cases. Flu season generally runs from October to May.
Covid has accounted for 2.2 million confirmed cases since October, but the true number is likely much higher – with many cases missed due to lack of testing. The pandemic virus was also responsible for 14,000 deaths.
In 2009, America was hit by an epidemic of swine flu, which triggered 60 million cases, 274,000 hospitalizations and 12,500 deaths.
Influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other seasonal threats have been absent since 2020 after restrictions to control Covid stopped their spread.
This year, Covid is still circulating, but has remained at around 300,000 cases per week since early October.
But this year they came back with a vengeance, spreading rapidly and infecting many children for the first time.
This graph shows influenza hospitalizations by year, with the current season represented by the black line with red triangles. It shows levels are higher this year than at any time since 2010
Pictured above are Covid cases by week across the US, according to the CDC
Where has the flu gone for the past two years…
The spread of influenza was massively curbed in the first two years of the Covid pandemic.
Virus interference from Covid – which prevented the spread of other viruses – combined with mitigation measures like masking and restrictions on indoor events led to little spread of the virus.
As a result, immunity waned in many individuals because a lack of infections meant it wasn’t restarted.
And younger children never developed immunity to seasonal threats because they weren’t exposed to the right germs.
This has led many experts to warn that seasonal viruses could come back strong this year.
There were warning signs in Australia and New Zealand – a “bell” for outbreaks in the United States – which both faced record flu seasons.
There, children’s hospitals have also faced an increase in admissions, as in the United States currently.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has issued a warning about the rampant spread of the flu in the southern hemisphere.
Some 14 states – mostly in the south – are already dealing with very high flu levels despite still being at the start of the season.
Experts say flu cases are higher this year because the flu has been ruled out for most of the pandemic.
Younger children also failed to build a defense against the virus due to a lack of exposure to the right germs.
Warnings of a bad flu season were issued months ago after Australia and New Zealand – which are normally precursors to outbreaks in the United States – both had record seasons.
Canberra had recorded 65,000 cases by May this year, more than double the 30,000 in 2019 the year before the pandemic began.
Children’s hospitals across the country have also faced a surge in admissions – in a US warning – forcing some to divert resources from other care.
But US officials ignored the warnings and loaded up on treatments.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is already reporting shortages of amoxicillin, a key children’s antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections such as pneumonia, respiratory infections and strep throat – all of which become more common after a flu infection .
Local pharmacies also said they were running out of Tamiflu, Augmentin – which contains amoxicillin – and Tylenol. There is also a shortage of the Albuterol inhaler.
The Biden administration, however, has spent more than $5 billion on the introduction of bivalent Covid vaccines.
The CDC recommends that everyone over six months old get their annual flu shot.
The bivalent booster shot against Covid is also offered to all people over the age of five.
But less than 12% of those who are eligible have come forward for the Covid vaccine.
Flu vaccine uptake is also lagging with 150 million doses distributed so far, down 13 million from the same time last year.
To spur adoption, the Biden administration has launched a more than $475 million campaign that will run for six weeks.
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