Severe cases in flu epidemic continue to rise, health officials say

A patient gets a shot during a flu vaccine program in Calgary on Oct. 26 2009

A patient gets a shot during a flu vaccine program in Calgary on Oct. 26 2009

Nationally, that rate has climbed well above 7 percent, a rate that experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said was last seen during the H1N1 swine flu epidemic of 2009.

Public health officials on Friday reported that there were 36 new flu-related deaths in California during the first week of February, making that the deadliest week in what was already a brutal influenza season.

It would make sense to see "a lot" of influenza deaths in the coming weeks, said Schuchat based on the fact that many people are now in the hospital. "I wish there was better news, but everything we are looking at is bad news".

"It is not too late to get your flu shot", said Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County's Public Health Director. Past flu seasons have lasted as long as 20 weeks. Officials report seeing unusually high levels of hospitalizations in non-elderly adults this flu season, with the rates for 50- to 64-year-olds being significantly higher than they were during the particularly sever 2014-2015 flu season that featured the same strain of illness.

The flu epidemic remains widespread in almost all states, and experts say it could be a record-breaking season.

Unless experiencing a medical crisis, people feeling flu-like symptoms, ranging from a sore throat to body aches, should contact their doctor's office via a nurse-consultation line before seeking help at a hospital to avoid overwhelming emergency rooms, Hawkins said. Anyone with the flu should stay home and not go to work or school for about a week.

'Activity is still on the rise overall, in fact we may be on track to break some recent records, ' Dr Schuchat said.

Speaking after the news conference, World Health Organization spokesman Yan Jin confirmed that H3N2 strains are dominating in the U.S. this influenza season.

Schuchat noted that while influenza A (H3N2) remains the predominant strain, influenza B viruses are comprising about 30% of viruses reported in this week's data.

Schuchat also said that the number of hospitalizations was the highest the center has ever encountered. This year's dominant strain of influenza A H3N2, does not appear to be different than one that has been circulating in previous seasons but it is being closely studied by virologists for any clues as to why it might be more virulent, Schuchat said. And while the number of flu-related deaths did decrease, from 20 from January 21-28 down to 11, state Health Commissioner Raul Pino said the worst could be yet to come and urged residents to get flu shots as soon as possible. The vaccine portion targeting the type B virus offers 55 per cent protection.

A viruses, often linked to more serious flu illness, continue to dominate. Flu viruses change constantly, even over the course of a single flu season. Be sure to disinfect possibly contaminated surfaces and objects.

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