CDC: Flu sea­son ap­pears milder than last year

The Kansas City Star - - News - BY MIKE STOBBE

It’s early, but the cur­rent flu sea­son is shap­ing up to be gen­tler than last win­ter’s un­usu­ally bru­tal one, U.S. health of­fi­cials said.

In most parts of the coun­try, most ill­nesses right now are be­ing caused by a flu strain that leads to fewer hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and deaths as the kind of flu that dom­i­nated a year ago, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials at the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. Vac­cines also work bet­ter against it, said the CDC’s Dr. Ali­cia Fry.

So is the U.S. in for a milder flu sea­son?

“If (this strain) con­tin­ues to be the pre­dom­i­nant virus, that is what we’d ex­pect,” said Fry, head of the epi­demi­ol­ogy and pre­ven­tion branch in the CDC’s flu di­vi­sion.

Last sea­son, an es­ti­mated 80,000 Amer­i­cans died of flu and its com­pli­ca­tions – the dis­ease’s high­est death toll in at least four decades. In re­cent years, flu-re­lated deaths have ranged from about 12,000 to 56,000, ac­cord­ing to the CDC.

The CDC has no es­ti­mate of deaths so far this sea­son, partly be­cause it’s so early. Flu usu­ally takes off af­ter Christ­mas and peaks around Fe­bru­ary.

On Fri­day, the CDC re­leased its reg­u­lar weekly flu up­date, show­ing that it was re­ported to be wide­spread in 30 states last week, up from 24 the week be­fore.

The health agency also re­leased new es­ti­mates of how the flu sea­son is play­ing out. It said:

–About 6 mil­lion to 7 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have be­come ill since flu sea­son kicked off in the fall.

–About half were sick enough to go to see a doc­tor.

–Roughly 70,000 to 80,000 have been hos­pi­tal­ized.

The CDC usu­ally doesn’t make those es­ti­mates un­til a flu sea­son is over, but re­searchers have been work­ing on the model for nearly a decade and be­lieve it is sound enough to use while the sea­son is still go­ing on, of­fi­cials said.

Be­cause the model is new, CDC re­searchers said they aren’t able to com­pare those es­ti­mates to pre­vi­ous flu sea­sons.

Last sea­son, an es­ti­mated 49 mil­lion Amer­i­cans got sick from the flu, 23 mil­lion went for med­i­cal care and 960,000 were hos­pi­tal­ized.

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