7.3 mil­lion flu cases re­ported, but most get­ting mild strain

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Doug Stan­glin

As the flu sea­son en­ters its most ac­tive pe­riod, early data from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion point to a milder sea­son than last year.

As many as 7.3 mil­lion peo­ple have fallen sick with the flu since the sea­son be­gan in Oc­to­ber, the CDC re­ported Fri­day. An es­ti­mated 69,000 to 84,000 have been hos­pi­tal­ized.

The re­port offered the first peek at data for the 2018-19 sea­son, which nor­mally runs from Oc­to­ber to late May.

In most parts of the coun­try, most ill­nesses right now are be­ing caused by a flu strain that causes fewer hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and deaths than last year's strain, ac­cord­ing to CDC officials.

Vac­cines also work bet­ter against it, the CDC's Dr. Ali­cia Fry said, which sug­gests a milder flu 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 flu divi­sion.

While any flu ac­tiv­ity is alarm­ing, the CDC says, the over­all hos­pi­tal­iza­tion rate is 9.1 per 100,000. At this point last year, the over­all hos­pi­tal­iza­tion rate was 30.5 per 100,000.

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

The CDC usu­ally doesn't is­sue es­ti­mates un­til a flu sea­son is over, but re­searchers have de­vel­oped a model they be­lieve is sound enough to use dur­ing the sea­son.

One pos­i­tive sign as flu en­ters what is typ­i­cally its worst pe­riod: More peo­ple are get­ting flu shots. By Novem­ber 2018, the CDC es­ti­mated that 44.9 per­cent of adults had been vac­ci­nated. Only 37. 1 per­cent had done so even by the end of the 2017-18 sea­son.

In the lat­est data, wide­spread influenza ac­tiv­ity was re­ported in Alabama, Ari­zona, Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado, Con­necti­cut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, In­di­ana, Iowa, Kansas, Ken­tucky, Louisiana, Mas­sachusetts, Ne­braska, Ne­vada, New Hamp­shire, New Jersey, New Mex­ico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Ore­gon, Penn­syl­va­nia, Rhode Is­land, South Carolina, Utah, Ver­mont, Vir­ginia and Wy­oming.

Wide­spread out­break de­notes flu or in­creases in influenza-like ill­nesses in at least half of the re­gions of a state.

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