The flu epidemic has struck the entire mainland US at the same time and in similar levels for the first time ever as health officials warn the season could get worse.
Influenza activity is now widespread in all states except Hawaii with the deadly virus already claiming the lives of more than 85 adults and 20 children this flu season.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that two strains of influenza viruses are being reported across the country, including H3N2 and H1N1.
‘This is a bad flu season,’ said Dr Dan Jernigan, the director of the CDC’s influenza branch.
Influenza activity is now widespread in all states except Hawaii with the deadly virus already claiming the lives of more than 85 adults and 20 children this flu season
‘Flu is everywhere in the US right now. There’s lots of flu in lots of places.
‘This is the first year we had the entire continental US be the same color on the graph meaning there’s widespread activity in all of the continental US at this point.’
While this year’s epidemic is still shy of the devastating death toll seen in 2014/2015, officials warn the rate of cases is severe, and this season looks set to be the second-worst on record.
The rate of cases for the deadly H3N2 virus is quadruple that of previous years, and hospitalizations have doubled in the last week as the outbreak reaches its ‘peak’.
‘What we’re seeing is the season has started early and that it’s probably peaking right about now,’ Dr Jernigan said.
He said the flu activity looked a lot like the flu epidemic of 2014-2015 where the H3N2 strain was predominant.
‘(It’s) a strain that’s, like was mentioned, is going to be associated with more cases and it’s going to be associated with more hospitalizations, and it is associated with more deaths,’ he said.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that two strains of influenza viruses are being reported across the country, including H3N2 and H1N1
This graph, released on Friday by the CDC, shows the rate of hospitalizations per flu season. This year (in red) appears to be surging higher than the deadly 2014/15 year, but experts warn this could slope down in the same way
Uniquely, this year baby boomers appear to be as vulnerable to the virus as the usual victims – infants and the elderly.
Of the reported cases across the country, mostly everyone is suffering from the H3N2 strain at the moment, but officials have warned that the H1N1 strain is also hitting.
‘We are seeing H1N1, which is one the other influenza viruses starting to show up in states that have already had H3 activity, so it’s possible we may have a pretty robust season, not just with H3, but with the others as well, and, therefore, a good reason to go ahead and get vaccinated if you have not,’ Dr Jernigan said.
Many flu seasons don’t really get going until around Christmas and don’t crescendo until February.
This season got off to an early start and cases surged over the holidays.
A 40-year-old mother-of-three was one of the many victims to die from the virus in California. Katie Denise Oxley Thomas, who was a marathon runner, died on January 2 after battling the flu for 48 hours.
A 10-year-old boy also died in Chicago on New Year’s Eve after the virus attacked his heart.
Kyler Baughman, 21, was a aspiring personal trainer who died in Pennsylvania when the flu eventually led to organ failure and septic shock.
WHAT ARE THE FLU STRAINS HITTING THE US THIS YEAR?
There are many different types of flu circulating around the world, but four main types are being seen, or are set to emerge, in America this winter.
H3N2 – Dubbed ‘Aussie flu’ after it struck Australia hard last winter, this strain is more likely to affect the elderly, who do not respond well to the current vaccine. This is one of the most common strains seen so far this winter.
H1N1 – This strain – known as ‘swine flu’ – is generally more likely to hit children, who respond well to vaccination. This has been seen nearly as often as H3N2 so far this year. In the past it was only commonly caught from pigs, but that changed in 2009 when it started spreading rapidly among humans in a major global pandemic.
B / Yamagata – This is known as ‘Japanese flu’. Only people who received the ‘four strain’ vaccine – which is being slowly rolled out after it was introduced for the first time this winter – are protected against the Yamagata strain. Those who received the normal ‘three strain’ vaccine are not protected.
B / Victoria – This strain is vaccinated against in the normal ‘three strain’ vaccine, but has hardly appeared so far this winter, with just four confirmed cases.