FRIDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- In Chicago, a hospital
employee describes the emergency department as "knee-deep in flu
and pneumonia cases."
In Richmond, Va., Dr. Kenneth Lucas of the Patient First clinic
says he's seen a 30 percent rise in flu cases, which "hit the fan
around Christmastime" and "really rolled in with the holidays."
And in Rhode Island, where almost 10 percent of emergency room
visits in the past week were due to flu-like symptoms, state Health
Department Director Michael Fine predicts this could be the worst
flu season in years.
This year's influenza season got off to an early start, and
according to these and other published accounts it's ramping up as
peak flu season nears.
"We did get off to an earlier start than we usually see," said Tom Skinner, spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "As we have moved into the end of December and January, activity has really picked up in a lot more states."
Flu season usually peaks in late January or early February,
Skinner said, but by November the flu was already severe and
widespread in some parts of the South and Southeast.
Farther north, activity has escalated in the Mid-Atlantic
states, including Virginia, in addition to Illinois and Rhode
According to the latest CDC statistics, which run through Dec.
29, a total of 41 states were reporting widespread flu activity.
There have been 18 flu-related deaths of children so far.
Experts say each flu season is unique. "Why one year flu season
gets off to an early start versus a late start is unknown," Skinner
Last year's flu season was relatively mild, Skinner noted. "We
would expect this year's flu season will be more severe than last
year, but how severe it's too early to say," he said.
The predominant strain so far this year is H3N2, Skinner said.
"In years past when we have seen an H3N2 dominate, we tend to see
more severe illness in young kids and the elderly," he added.
An estimated 36,000 people die from the flu and its
complications in a typical season, according to the CDC. From 1976
to 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States
ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000
The best protection is for everyone 6 months of age and older to
get the flu vaccine.
"It's not too late to get vaccinated," Skinner said. Ample vaccine was made available, but since it's late in the vaccination season it may be a little harder to find, he said.
Also encouraging is that the vaccine is a good match for the
strains of flu circulating now, Skinner said.
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, head and body aches,
and runny nose. People at particular risk for flu and its
complications are pregnant women, those 65 and older and anyone
with a chronic illness. The CDC urges these people to get the flu
vaccine, which is available as an injection or nasal spray and in a
stronger dose for seniors.
To learn more about the flu, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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