A sign advertising flu shots is displayed at a Walgreens drug store on January 22, 2018 in San Francisco, California. A strong strain of H3N2 flu has claimed the lives of 74 Californians under the age of 65 since the flu season began in October last year.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
A flu variant that strikes children and the elderly more than other strains of the virus is currently dominant in the United States, setting the country up for a potentially bad flu season.
Public health labs detected influenza A(H3N2) in 76% of more than 3,500 respiratory samples that tested positive for influenza and were analyzed for the virus subtype, according to a surveillance report released Friday. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The H3N2 variant has been associated with more severe flu seasons in children and the elderly in the past, according to Dr. Jose Romero, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
“There are also early signs of influenza causing severe illness in precisely these two groups of individuals this season,” Romero told reporters on a call earlier this month.
The flu hospitalization rate hit a decade high this season. Overall, about 8 in 100,000 people are currently hospitalized with the flu, but older adults and younger children are hit much harder than other age groups, CDC data shows.
The hospitalization rate for the elderly is more than double that of the general population, at 18 per 100,000. For children under five, the hospitalization rate is about 13 per 100,000.
At least 4.4 million people have fallen ill with the flu, 38,000 have been hospitalized and 2,100 have died since the start of the season. Seven children have died of the flu so far this season.
“When we have more H3N2, we usually have a more severe flu season – so longer, more kids affected, more kids with severe illness,” said pediatrician and health expert Dr Andi Shane. infectious diseases at Children’s Healthcare Atlanta.
The other influenza A variant, H1N1, is generally associated with less severe seasons compared to H3N2, Shane said. H1N1 accounts for about 22% of samples that tested positive for influenza and were analyzed for a subtype, according to the CDC.
The percentage of patients reporting flu-like symptoms, a fever of 100 degrees or higher plus a sore throat or cough, is currently highest in Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama and Washington D.C. , according to the CDC.
Respiratory illnesses are also very high in Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina and Texas, according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends anyone 6 months of age or older get the flu shot. Children under 8 years of age receiving the vaccine for the first time should receive two doses for better protection.
The flu vaccine is normally 40% to 60% effective at preventing illness, but people who still get sick are less likely to end up in hospital or die, according to the CDC.
Public health officials are also encouraging people to stay home when sick, cover coughs and sneezes, and wash their hands frequently. Those who want to take extra precautions can consider wearing a face mask indoors in public.
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