Flu season is coming in full force — and it’s more severe and widespread than years prior.
New York and 26 other states so far have reported high “influenza-like” activity, while Puerto Rico and nine other states are currently experiencing moderate flu activity, according to the Center for Disease Control’s weekly report.
This year’s flu cycle kicked off significantly earlier than most years, with flu activity spiking nationwide in the last week of December. Thirteen children so far have already died from flu-related illness in the 2017-18 flu cycle, according to the CDC.
The flu kills an estimated 36,000 people a year in the United States, though most die from complications from the virus rather than the virus itself.
Young children, the elderly and pregnant women are at higher risk for more severe flu symptoms and complications.
A pregnant woman died from the flu in Tennessee earlier this week, making her the fourth person in the state to succumb to the illness this season.
There are several factors that have made this season’s flu especially challenging.
Experts have said this season’s vaccine may be as low as only 10% effective in preventing infections, compared to the typical 30%.
Most flu patients this year have been diagnosed with a type of influenza virus called H3N2. This strain of flu typically results in an increase in hospitalizations as well as deaths in young children and the elderly. Experts also noted vaccines are often less effective on this type of flu virus than others.
According to the flu index, this season’s infection rate is mimicking infection patterns from that of the 2014-15 flu season, which was also a year dominated by the H3N2 strain.
Experts have said because of the strain, this season’s vaccine may be as low as only 10% effective in preventing infections, compared to the typical 30%.
Still, health officials nationwide agree the best way to battle the flu is to get vaccinated against it. Experts recommend getting vaccinated as soon as possible, noting it take could up to two weeks for antibodies that fight the flu to develop.
While October is the ideal time to get the shot, getting vaccinated as late as January can still offer benefits and protections.
Those infected with the flu already should avoid contact with other people and seek out medical attention.