COLD AND FLU
‘Alarmingly Fast Start’ to Flu Season This Year
By Jan Wesner Childs
At a Glance
- Twelve states reported high levels of flu activity in the most recent CDC report.
- An estimated 900 people have died.
- Experts say it’s too early to tell if the rapid start means a more severe flu season is ahead.
The flu season is officially underway, marking the earliest start to widespread flu outbreaks in more than 15 years.
While flu season doesn’t have a set start and end date, health officials consider it to kick off when a significant number of doctor’s office visits are related to flu-like illnesses for three weeks in a row, according to the Associated Press. That threshold has now been met.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that flu cases have risen steadily over the past few weeks and continue to increase.
Twelve states and Puerto Rico reported high levels of flu activity in the CDC’s most recent weekly report, released Friday. That was up from seven states the previous week. Fourteen states, twice as many as the week before, reported moderate flu activity.
(MORE: How to Dodge the Flu This Year)
“Last year marked the longest flu season in a decade, and now we are seeing this year’s flu season off to an alarmingly fast start,” U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said during a hearing with health officials this week on the flu, the Boston Herald reported.
The CDC estimates some 1.7 million people have been infected with flu illnesses so far, and 900 have died. As many as 61,000 people died from the flu during the 2018-2019 season.
While some experts think the early and rapid start to this year’s flu season could mean a sign of a particular intense flu battle this year, others say it’s too early to tell.
“There’s not a predictable trend as far as if it’s early it’s going to be more severe, or later, less severe,” Scott Epperson, who tracks flu-like illnesses for the CDC, told the AP.
Dave Osthus, a statistician in flu forecasting at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said the early start could indicate that a lot of people will be sick at the same time.
“This could be a precursor to something pretty bad,” Osthus said. “But we don’t know.”
The CDC says the best way to avoid the flu is to get vaccinated. Flu shots are recommended for anyone six months and older. Other preventive measures include frequent handwashing and avoiding others who are sick.
Symptoms of the flu include fever, headache, cough, sore threat, stuffy nose, muscle or body aches and fatigue. Adults 65 years and older, pregnant women and young children are among the groups most at risk.
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