An especially severe flu season might be hitting its peak, but experts expect to see many more Americans treated for the potentially deadly viral infection before it is over.
As Stat reported, last week saw a marked week-over-week increase in the number of hospitalizations associated with a flu diagnosis.
Two weeks ago, an average of 13.7 people were hospitalized per 100,000 Americans, a ratio that jumped to 22.7 the following week.
Still, that number was well short of the peak of the 2014-15 flu season, recognized by officials as one the most severe outbreaks so far this century, when nearly 30 in every 100,000 Americans were in the hospital for flu-related symptoms.
What sets this season apart, however, is the breadth of its reach. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate there have been cases of the virus reported across the entire continental U.S. for the first time since it began its current tracking method 13 years ago.
“There’s lots of flu in lots of places,” said Dan Jernigan, the doctor in charge of the CDC’s influenza division.
He said the research reveals “the first year we’ve had the entire continental U.S. at the same level (of flu activity) at the same time.”
Local reports across the nation provide anecdotal evidence of an unexpectedly active flu season.
At least 20 U.S. children have died of flu-related causes so far and emergency rooms across the nation have been flooded with patients of all ages reporting the same symptoms, CNN reported.
The good news, according to CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, is that the most recent reports show the season has probably hit its peak.
Since it often takes some time for the agency to collect complete data on flu hospitalizations and deaths, it is an admittedly inexact forecast. In any case, Fitzgerald warned Americans to brace for even more cases of the virus.
Just how severe the season actually turns out to be, experts say, will not be fully realized until after it has run its course. According to Jernigan, however, the data currently available suggests this season is somewhat less severe than the season ending in 2015.
As in other active years, he said the elderly population remains most at risk of being hospitalized because of the flu. The 50- to 64-year-old age range has also seen a high rate of hospitalizations this season.
Children are also at elevated risk of hospitalization or death due to the flu. Twenty children have already died this season, a number that topped 100 last season and could continue to rise.
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