Jan. 8, 2015—As of late December, about half the U.S. was experiencing high rates of influenza (flu), along with elevated numbers of hospitalizations and deaths due to the illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This elevated rate of flu is not unusual—it happens every year. Nevertheless, it is a cause for concern, especially for people at high risk for complications from the flu, including children. As of Dec. 27, CDC surveillance indicated that flu was associated with the deaths of 21 children.
About influenza surveillance
Although flu season can stretch from October through May—with cases usually peaking in December through February—CDC gathers flu data all year. The data enables CDC to track flu virus activity throughout the country, including related hospitalizations and deaths.
According to CDC’s surveillance, the pattern for the 2014–2015 flu season has been typical, beginning with reports of increased influenza-related illness, followed by increases in hospitalizations, then increases in deaths linked to the illness. Over the past several weeks, rates of flu-like illness have risen to considerable levels, and as of Dec. 27, flu was considered widespread in more than 40 states. The surveillance also shows that hospitalization rates have been increasing, especially for people 65 years and older.
This season, influenza A (H3N2) virus has been prevalent. According to CDC, H3N2 is typically associated with more severe illness and deaths compared to other strains of the virus. As the 2014–2015 flu season continues, CDC anticipates a rise in both hospitalizations and deaths.
The take-home message
The flu vaccine provides the best protection from influenza. And since flu season can last through May, it’s not too late to protect yourself and your loved ones. Learn where flu shots are available in your area at www.flu.gov.
While some of this season’s flu viruses are different from what is in the vaccine, CDC states the shot can still offer protection—and might reduce severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death.
In addition to getting your flu shot, protect yourself by washing your hands frequently and avoiding sick people.
If you come down with the flu, protect others: Stay home from work or school. Also, ask your doctor about antiviral drugs. These prescription medicines can treat your illness and help prevent serious complications such as pneumonia.