The U.S. winter flu season is off to its earliest start in more than 15 years.
An early barrage of illness in the South has begun to spread more broadly, and there’s a decent chance flu season could peak much earlier than normal, health officials say.
The last flu season start this early was in 2003-2004. That was a bad one. And some experts already start thinking the early start may mean a lot of suffering is in store.
It really depends on what viruses are circulating
There are different types of flu viruses, and the one causing illnesses in most parts of the country is a surprise. It’s a version that normally doesn’t abound until March or April.
That virus generally isn’t as dangerous to older people. However, such viruses can be hard on children and people younger than 50.
Flu Hits Louisiana Hard
Louisiana was the first state to really get hit hard, with doctors there saying they began seeing large numbers of flu-like illnesses in October.
Children’s Hospital New Orleans has already seen more flu cases this fall than it saw all of last winter.
Last month was the busiest ever at the hospital’s emergency department. Officials had to set up a triage system and add extra shifts.
Symptoms can put you in bed for a week, including fever, vomiting and diarrhea. But the hospital has not had any deaths and is not seeing many serious complications.
U.S. Flu Season Underway: Already 900 Dead
Health officials tend to consider a flu season to be officially underway when — for at least three weeks in a row — a significant percentage of U.S. doctor’s office visits are due to flu-like illnesses. That’s now happened, CDC officials said this week.
The agency on Friday estimated that there have already been 1.7 million flu illnesses, 16,000 hospitalizations, and 900 flu-related deaths nationally.
The most intense patient traffic had been occurring in a six states stretching from Texas to Georgia. But in new numbers released Friday, CDC officials said the number of states with intense activity rose last week to 12. Flu is widespread in 16 states, though not necessarily at intense levels in each, the CDC said.
Flu Seasons 2017-2019
Last flu season started off as a mild one but turned out to be the longest in 10 years. It ended with around 49,000 flu-related deaths and 590,000 hospitalizations, according to preliminary estimates.
It was bad, but not as bad as the one before it, when flu caused an estimated 61,000 deaths and 810,000 hospitalizations. Those 2017-2018 estimates are new: The CDC last month revised them down from previous estimates as more data — including actual death certificates — came in.
In both of the previous two flu seasons, the flu vaccine performed poorly against the nasty predominant virus. It’s too early to say how well the vaccine is performing right now. But we know that flu shot manufacturing causes influenza to mutate.
Flu Season To Peak in December
There’s a chance the flu season will peak this month, which would be unusually early. Flu season usually doesn’t hit fever pitch until around February.
The early start suggests a lot Americans may be sick at the same time. This could be a precursor to something pretty bad. But we don’t know.
Personally, I would get prepared for the worse. 2018 was dubbed one of the worst flu seasons in the US in nine years, and the UK fared just as badly. With this unexpected flu virus and the probable mutations due to vaccination, there will be blood. [Medical Xpress]
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