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Flu cases on the rise in the US, situation expected to worsen

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
flu, influenza, pandemic, vaccine, prevention

If you have not yet received your flu shot this season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you get one ASAP. According to this week’s FluView report from the CDC, influenza activity continues to increase in the United States with most of the nation now experiencing high levels of influenza-like-illness. These current flu levels are nearing what have been peak levels during moderately severe seasons in the past.

For the fourth consecutive week, the proportion of individuals seeing their healthcare provider for influenza-like illness is above the national baseline; it has risen sharply from 2.8% to 5.6% over the past 4 weeks. A total of 29 states and New York City are now reporting high flu activity. Last week, 16 states reported high flu activity; in addition, nine states reported moderate levels of flu activity. States reporting high flu activity for the week ending December 29 include Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.

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For the week of December 23-29, 41 states reported widespread geographic influenza activity for the week of December 23-29, 2012, marking an increase from 31 states the previous week. The CDC notes that geographic influenza activity takes into account the number of areas in a state that are reporting increases in laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza, influenza outbreaks, influenza-like illnesses, and other indicators of activity.

Hospitalizations for flu are also on the uptick. Since October 1, 2012, 2,257 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations have been reported, marking an increase of 735 hospitalizations from the previous week. This translates to a rate of 8.1 influenza-associated hospitalizations per 100,000 individuals in the US. More troubling than hospitalizations for flu are deaths. The CDC notes that the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza based on the 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System was slightly below the epidemic threshold. Two influenza-related pediatric deaths were reported during the week of December 23-29. Both of the deaths were associated with influenza B viruses. Eighteen influenza-associated pediatric deaths occurring during the 2012-2013 season have been reported to CDC.

According to the CDC, it is likely that the increased flu activity will continue for a while. Based on the last 10 flu seasons, influenza-like illness remained at or above baseline for about 12 weeks––and up to 16 weeks during the 2005-2006 season. During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, influenza-like illness remained above baseline for 19 weeks.

Reference: CDC