The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is alarmed that the current flu season is on track to becoming the worst in the past decade.
Experts warn that the ongoing flu season is worse now and will likely be the most severe since the 2014-2015 season that resulted to over 56,000 deaths and 710,000 cases of hospitalization.
Widespread Flu Activity
The latest weekly influenza report by the CDC noted that in the past 15 flu seasons, this is the first time that all states in the entire continental United States have reported widespread flu activity during the same week. All 49 states, with the exemption of Hawaii, are reeling from the epidemic.
Dr. Daniel Jernigan, director of the influenza division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease at CDC, highlighted two notable characteristics of this flu season.
"The first is that flu activity became widespread within almost all states and jurisdictions at the same time. The second notable characteristic is that flu activity has now stayed at the same level at the national level for three weeks in a row with 49 states reporting widespread activity each week for three weeks," he said. "We often see different parts of the country light up at different times, but for the past three weeks the entire country has been experiencing lots of flu all at the same time."
Experts noted that this is the highest level of flu activity recorded since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, which peaked at 7.7 percent.
Deaths And Hospitalizations
The epidemic is so severe nationwide that hospital emergency rooms are always packed, doctors are working in triple shifts, and hospitals have recorded a shortage of beds for patients. Pharmacies are also running out of flu medicines.
Based on the new report, seven new pediatric deaths were recorded, bringing the total pediatric mortality to 37 deaths, but the CDC says the actual number could be higher as it takes time for deaths outside hospitals to be reported to authorities.
The rate of hospitalization is also rising at an alarming rate, with 3,000 new cases recorded in the past week.
While people over 65 years old have the highest rate of hospitalization, baby boomers or adults aged 50 to 64 years are most likely to be affected by the flu.
"Baby boomers have higher rates of hospitalization than their grandchildren right now," Jernigan said. "Those folks are ones who really would benefit from having a higher vaccination coverage."
The proportion of outpatient hospital visits for flu-like symptoms was 6.6 percent, which is higher than national baseline of 2.2 percent. New York and Puerto Rico were among those with the most cases of flu-like symptoms.
New York hospitals that are now in the middle of shortage of IV solution and bags to treat dehydration, have already treated more than 5,000 patients. Establishing a New York specific surveillance team to help tackle the emergency is also being considered.
The most frequent flu virus reported by public health laboratories was the influenza H3N2, a dangerous strain of flu that is resistant to flu vaccine.
Flu Spreads Rapidly Through Breathing
CDC attributes the rapid flu transmission in the past three weeks of January mainly to children returning from school and contracting the virus.
This could be true as a new study revealed that influenza virus can be transmitted quickly just by breathing rather than by coughing or sneezing.
A person infected with flu likely exhales the virus through the mouth and nose in the form of aerosol particles which remain suspended in the air for several hours, increasing the risk of flu transmission to another person.