Flu Epidemic Hits Most of the United States, Killing At Least 20 Children

Pam Wright
Published: January 12, 2018

Cases of influenza have reached epidemic proportions, touching nearly all parts of the United States and killing at least 20 children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

According to a CDC weekly report released Friday, the flu is now widespread in all states except Hawaii and the District of Columbia. At least 60,000 cases of the flu have been reported.

"What we're seeing this year is the influenza season started earlier and seems to be peaking right about now," Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, director of the Influenza Division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) at CDC, told "Good Morning America" Friday. 

"That's about a month earlier than it normally would be peaking," he said, "so lots of cases [are] happening, in lots of states, all at the same time."

High flu activity has been reported New York City as well as Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming, the CDC said.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state public health emergency Friday because of the flu, which provides additional resources to assist affected communities, WAAY reports. The declaration notes that healthcare facilities are "overwhelmed by the number of ill patients and taxed to such an extent that care of patients may no longer be provided in the traditional, normal, and customary manner nor is the utilization of traditional, normal, and customary standards of care possible."

Schools in Alabama, Idaho, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas have closed because of outbreaks, ABC News reports.

The CDC notes that this year's vaccine is only expected to be about 32 percent effective because H3N2 tends to mutate. The strains used in the vaccine are determined months before the season actually begins so it's difficult to be 100 percent accurate.

"How well the vaccine works can depend in part on the match between the vaccine virus used to produce the vaccine and the circulating viruses that season," the CDC notes. "It’s not possible to predict what viruses will be most predominant during the upcoming season."

During this year's flu season in Australia, the vaccine was only 10 percent effective. 

The most recent flu activity.
Still, the CDC recommends that all people over the age of five get the shot to reduce the symptoms of the virus. 

"It's not too late to get a flu vaccine — as long as flu is spreading vaccination should continue," the CDC's Kristen Nordlund told weather.com. "It’s important to know that it takes about two weeks for protection to set in."

(MORE: Places You’re More Likely to Catch the Flu)

California has been particularly hard hit, with at least 27 deaths of people under 65 attributed to the flu, the Associated Press reports. As the number of cases continues to climb there, hospitals are beginning to run out of Tamiflu, the anti-viral medication used to treat the illness. 

Susan Klein-Rothschild, deputy director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, told weather.com the number of cases of flu reported in the county is significant.

"Our hospitals and health care providers are seeing large numbers of people presenting with influenza-like illness," Klein-Rothschild said. "The trend for this flu season is much greater than our typical flu season."

(MORE: Hospitals Desperate for IV Bags in Flu Season)

There have been five outbreaks in Santa Barbara County residential health care facilities and eight deaths attributed to the virus, all of them occurring in individuals over 65.

"This strain appears to be particularly strong," Klein-Rothschild said. "A number of people who live in the same facility have tested positive for the flu. It appears to spread easily. We are strongly recommending residents to get vaccinated, use good hand hygiene and stay home if they are ill."

According to the CDC, people at high risk for flu complications include children younger than five, adults 65 years and older and pregnant women. Those with medical conditions such as asthma, chronic lung or heart disease, diabetes and obesity are also at risk for flu complications, including pneumonia.

Anti-virals like Tamiflu are effective in lessening the symptoms of H3N2, but are most effective if administered within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

The CDC recommends individuals presenting with symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue seek medical attention as quickly as possible. 

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