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January 10, 2017

Flu update: CDC reports season is picking up

Daily Briefing

Influenza activity is on the rise and is expected to pick up throughout the country over the next few weeks, according to CDC's latest weekly surveillance report.

The report covers the week ending Dec. 31, 2016.

Flu season typically starts in October and November and peaks between December and March—though it can run through May. Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans contract the flu. According to CDC, the virus kills about 24,000 U.S. residents, including about 100 children, annually. Elderly individuals are at the greatest risk of experiencing life-threatening complications from the flu.

Flu update

CDC said after a slow start, the flu season gained traction in mid-December and is currently a bit worse than last year's relatively mild flu season.

Overall, the agency said as of Dec. 31, 2016, the nationwide proportion of outpatient visits for flu-like illness was 3.4 percent, up from the national baseline of 2.2 percent. According to CDC, more than 1,300 people have been hospitalized between Oct. 1, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2016, for laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu. Most of those hospitalizations were influenza A (87.7 percent), and among those cases, almost all were H3N2 strain (98.1 percent).

Every state is reporting instances of the flu, CDC said, but it seems to be the most widespread in the Northwest and in parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Ten states reporting high levels of influenza-like activity include:

  • Alabama;
  • Georgia;
  • Louisiana;
  • Missouri;
  • New Jersey;
  • New York;
  • Oklahoma;
  • Oregon;              
  • South Carolina; and
  • Utah.

So far this flu season, "influenza A (H3N2) viruses have been identified most frequently in the [United States]," according to CDC. That strain "seems to make people sicker," Maggie Fox reports for NBC News. CDC officials said, "If H3N2 viruses continue to circulate widely, older adults and young children may be more severely impacted."

Deaths attributed to flu and pneumonia are below seasonal baseline and epidemic levels but are increasing, according to CDC. Such deaths can trail behind infection reports. No pediatric flu-related deaths have been reported this season.

Vaccine a good match

Agency officials stressed that it's not too late to get vaccinated against the flu. According to CDC, the latest vaccine appears to be a good match against this season's prevalent strains.

CDC also said most of the flu viruses circulating this season are susceptible to antiviral medications. The agency urged prompt antiviral treatment for "patients with confirmed or suspected influenza who have severe, complicated or progressive illness; who require hospitalization; or who are at high risk for serious influenza-related complications" (Fox, NBC News, 1/6; CBS News, 1/6; Punke, Becker's Infection & Clinical Quality Control, 1/6; Cortez, Bloomberg, 1/6; CDC, "FluView," accessed 1/9; CDC, "Influenza (Flu)," accessed 1/9) . 

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