This Year’s Flu Season

Breaking News: Flu activity has continued to decrease, “however, 7 states continue to report widespread flu activity and 2 states continue to experience high influenza-like illness (ILI) activity….” (see below)

Flu activity continues to decrease, but flu is still widespread in 7 states.
Flu activity continues to decrease, but flu is still widespread in 7 states.

While flu season typically peaks in February, it is very important to understand that there are few things that are typical about the flu.

Since 1982, while we have been twice as likely to see a flu activity peak in February than other winter months, we have been just as likely to get that peak in December, January, or March. That makes it important to get your flu vaccine as soon as you can.

You really never know if it is going to be an early, average, or late flu season.

Flu Facts

There will likely be some surprises this flu season – there always are – but there are some things that you can unfortunately count on.

Among these flu facts include that:

  • there have been over 1,600 pediatric flu deaths since the 2003-04 flu season, including 110 flu deaths last year
  • about 113 kids die of the flu each year – most of them unvaccinated
  • antiviral flu medicines, such as Tamiflu, while recommended to treat high-risk people, including kids under 2 to 5 years of age, have very modest benefits at best (they don’t do all that much, are expensive, don’t taste good, and can have side effects, etc.)
  • a flu vaccine is the best way to decrease your child’s chances of getting the flu

And even in a mild flu season, a lot of kids get sick with the flu.

What about reports that the flu shot will be only 10% effective?

Don’t believe them. The flu vaccine works and besides, it has many benefits beyond keeping you from getting the flu

This Year’s Flu Season

When does flu season start?

In general, flu season starts when you begin to see people around you with signs and symptoms of the flu, including fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue, etc. To be more accurate, you can also look at reports for flu activity in your area, especially the weekly reports from the CDC. Those flu reports can also help you determine when flu season ends.

It is obvious now that this is an early flu season. And with an H3N2 predominant strain, everyone should understand that is going to be a severe season.

Worst season ever? Probably not. But this season is starting to live up to some of the hype, as influenza-like-illness (ILI) activity is at 7.5% and is approaching the 7.7 peak of the 2009 pandemic and the overall hospitalization rate is higher than the overall hospitalization rate reported during the same week of the 2014-2015 season.

That leaves the next big questions – when will flu season peak and when will it be over?

As of early April, the CDC continues to report that flu activity is decreasing.

The CDC has also recently reported that:

  • 7 states are still reporting widespread flu activity (down from 11 last week) – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island
  • 22 states are still reporting regional flu activity (down from 26 last week) – Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin
  • 16 states and the District of Columbia are now reporting local flu activity (up from 10 states last week) – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming)
  • 5 states are now reporting sporadic flu activity (up from 3 states last week) – Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Oregon, and Texas
  • no states still have no flu activity
  • between 151 to 166 million doses of flu vaccine will be available this year, including 130 million doses of thimerosal-free or preservative-free flu shots, so the great majority of flu shots will not contain mercury!
  • FluMist, the nasal spray flu vaccine, will return next year
  • although we don’t know exactly how well the flu vaccine will work this year, we know that it is working better than expected, especially in younger children, and it is good news that “The majority of the influenza viruses collected from the United States during October 1, 2017 through April 7, 2018 were characterized antigenically and genetically as being similar to the cell-grown reference viruses representing the 2017–18 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine viruses.”
  • ILI has dropped to 2.1% this week! That’s below the national baseline of 2.2% for the first time since late November.
  • the rates reported this season are higher than the end-of-season hospitalization rates for all ages (cumulative) and all age-group specific rates for the 2014-2015 flu season; a high severity, H3N2-predominant season.
  • there have already been 151 pediatric flu deaths this year, including 9 new pediatric deaths that were reported this past week, and like in other recent years, most pediatric flu deaths are in kids who are unvaccinated

Have you and your family gotten been vaccinated and protected against the flu yet?

“CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an injectable flu vaccine as soon as possible.”

CDC Influenza Situation Update

If not, this still a great time to get a flu vaccine.

Flu season isn’t over and like in many other flu seasons, we will likely continue to see a rise in influenza B viruses until this year’s season does finally end later this spring.

And remember that while this is certainly a bad flu season, it is still comparable to other recent H3N2 seasons, especially the 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons.

Most importantly, this year’s season has peaked…

Recent Flu Seasons

Are H3N2 predominant flu seasons really worse than others?

  • 2003-04 flu season – 152 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2004-05 flu season – 47 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2005-06 flu season – 46 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2006-07 flu season – 77 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2007-08 flu season – 88 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2008-09 flu season – 137 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2009-10 flu season – 289 pediatric flu deaths (swine flu pandemic)
  • 2010-11 flu season – 123 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2011-12 flu season – 37 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2012-13 flu season – 171 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2013-14 flu season – 111 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2014-15 flu season – 148 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)
  • 2015-16 flu season – 93 pediatric flu deaths
  • 2016-17 flu season – 110 pediatric flu deaths (H3N2-predominant)

In addition to high levels of pediatric flu deaths, the CDC reports that the four flu seasons that were H3N2-predominant in recent years were “the four seasons with the highest flu-associated mortality levels in the past decade.”

For More Information on the 2017-18 Flu Season

Updated April 15, 2018

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