Flu wide­spread across US for the third straight week

Vis­its to doc­tors for flu are now at their high­est lev­els since the Swine Flu pan­demic of 2009.

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Mike Sto­bbe AP Med­i­cal Writer

NEW YORK — Sick with the flu? You’ve got a lot of com­pany.

The flu blan­keted the U.S. again last week for the third straight week. Only Hawaii has been spared.

The gov­ern­ment doesn’t track ev­ery flu case but comes up with es­ti­mates. One mea­sure i s how many peo­ple seek med­i­cal care.

Last week, 1 in 15 doc­tor vis­its were for symp­toms of the flu. That’s the high­est level since the swine flu pan­demic in 2009.

Thirty- nine states re­ported high flu traffic last week, up from 32 the week be­fore.

Some good news, at least so far: The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion said Fri­day that hospi­tal stays and deaths from the flu among the el­derly so far haven’t been as high as in some other re­cent flu sea­sons.

How­ever, hos­pi­tal­iza­tion rates for peo­ple 50 to 64 — Baby Boomers, mostly — has been un­usu­ally high, CDC of­fi­cials said re­cently in a pub­lic state­ment.

The CDC re­ported what was seen across the na­tion for the week end­ing Jan­uary 20.

Flu is a con­ta­gious res­pi­ra­tory ill­ness, spread by a virus. It can cause a mis­er­able but rel­a­tively mild ill­ness in many peo­ple, but more a more se­vere ill­ness in oth­ers. Young chil­dren and the el­derly are at great­est risk from flu and its com­pli­ca­tions. In a bad sea­son, there are as many as 56,000 deaths con­nected to the flu.

In the U.S., an­nual flu shots are rec­om­mended for ev­ery­one age 6 months or older.

Health of­fi­cials say this year’s cor­rectly shot tar­gets the strains that are mak­ing Amer­i­cans sick, in­clud­ing one caus­ing most of the ill­ness, a Type A H3N2 flu virus. But ex­actly well it is work­ing won’t be known un­til next month.

The same virus was the dom­i­nant flu bug last win­ter, when the flu sea­son wasn’t so bad. It’s not clear why this sea­son — led by the same bug — is so much more in­tense, some ex­perts said.

“That’s the kicker. This virus re­ally doesn’t look that dif­fer­ent from what we saw last year,” said Richard Webby, a flu re­searcher at St. Jude Chil­dren’s Re­search Hospi­tal in Mem­phis.

It may be that many of the peo­ple get­ting sick this year man­aged to avoid in­fec­tion last year. Or there may be some de­gree of mu­ta­tion in the virus that hasn’t been de­tected yet, said the CDC’s Dr. Dan Jerni­gan.

Based on pat­terns from past sea­sons, it’s likely flu sea­son will start to wane soon, ex­perts say. There are some places, like Cal­i­for­nia, where flu sea­son al­ready seems to be eas­ing, CDC of­fi­cials said.

“If I was a bet­ting man, I’d put money on it go­ing down,” Webby said. “But I’ve lost money on bets be­fore.”

Jen­nifer Man­ton got sick with the flu about two weeks ago, hit by high fever and body aches. She missed two days of work, and felt bad for about 10 days.

“I had not had the flu since 1996,” said Man­ton, 48, a chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer for a law firm in New York City. “It’s been 22 years since I felt that badly.”

‘This virus re­ally doesn’t look that dif­fer­ent from what we saw last year.’

Richard Webby Flu Re­searcher, St. Jude’s Chil­dren’s Re­search Hospi­tal in Mem­phis

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