Emergency rooms across the country have been hit hard by an unusual spike in the number of serious flu cases this early in the season, with dozens of deaths among children and the elderly reported in more populous states as health officials scramble to deal with packed waiting rooms and medication shortages.
“Flu is everywhere in the US right now,” Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the Center for Disease Control’s influenza branch, told CNN. “This is the first year we’ve had the entire continental US at the same level (of flu activity) at the same time.”
So far, the number of confirmed flu cases across the country has risen to around 60,000, with 11,718 new laboratory-confirmed cases cropping up in the week ending January 6 alone. That number does not reflect the many people who do not necessarily go to the doctor when they fall ill.
Flu season runs from October through May and usually peaks in February, but CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald believes that flu activity could already be leveling off.
“We are currently in the midst of a very active flu season, with much of the country experiencing widespread and intense flu activity,” she said. “The flu season may be peaking now. We know from past experience it will take many more weeks for flu activity to slow down.”
Parts of the country where the flu began spreading earlier in the season could already be tapering off, while other parts may soon reach their peak.
“But, either way, one of the really important things to remember is there are, probably for everybody, weeks to go in this flu season,” said Lynette Brammer, head of the CDC’s Domestic Flu Surveillance team.
State officials in California announced that 42 residents under the age of 65 have succumbed to the flu, compared to just nine at the same time last year, the Los Angeles Times reported. The deaths have been blamed on the strain of influenza A that is spreading, which is known as H3N2 and is considered more dangerous than other strains.