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Flu reaches epidemic levels in US, killing 20 children so far

Teresa Tanoos's picture
This season's flu has killed 20 kids so far, reaching epidemic levels.

In its weekly flu report on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that this season’s influenza is widespread in 40 states across the nation and has reached epidemic proportions, resulting in the deaths of 20 children so far.

While it’s not unusual to have that many children die from the flu or flu-like illnesses like pneumonia at this time of year, it nevertheless is a painful statistic that points to the harsh reality that influenza kills. Indeed, the death toll for kids in January of 2013 was 29.

This flu season also comes with a particularly nasty strain, H1N1, which has been circulating as the dominant virus going around this year – making a comeback since making its first appearance during the swine flu pandemic in 2009.

The H1N1 virus is known to make people particularly sick, but unlike other flu viruses that put the elderly especially at risk, young and middle-aged adults are the most susceptible to contracting H1N1.

H1N1 has continued to be the dominant flu strain circulating among the mix of strains this season, which is why the CDC is carefully tracking flu activity for any change in how its spreading, as well as whether younger adults are more prone to being infected.

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According to the CDC, 25 percent of sick people who go the emergency room end up testing positive for the flu, with another 75 percent having flu-related illness, such as pneumonia.

While there are antiviral medications available for combatting influenza, they must be taken within 24 to 48 hours of the start of symptoms to be effective.

Depending on the season, the flu can kill 3,000 to 49,000 victims in any given year, and the hospitalization rate is among adults aged 65 years and older, followed by children between the ages of 0-4 and adults between the ages of 50 and 64 years, the CDC reports.

There are steps you can take to help protect yourself from getting the flu. Thorough and frequent hand washing helps, as does getting vaccinated, and it’s still not too late to get a flu shot.

Flu vaccines are offered in many locations. Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can get a flu vaccine somewhere else, including your doctor’s office, medical clinics, health departments and pharmacies.

To find a flu vaccination location near you, visit http://vaccine.healthmap.org/

SOURCE: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), FluView, 2013-2014 Influenza Season Week 2 ending January 11, 2014