More than 100 American children have died of flu already this season, according to the latest federal data.
Since the first child died early on this season – a four-year-old in California, who died in September – the pediatric death toll has risen to 105 in the US.
By comparison, last year there were no deaths during the week ending in January 11.
Last week alone, 13 children died of flu. For comparison, not a single child died during the same week in 2019, 2018, or 2017.
Influenza B has been unusually active this year compared to most and has accounted for 72 of this year’s child deaths.
More children have died this flu season than have in a a single season for the past year, with pediatric deaths this season already catching up to last year’s full-seas on total (second from right)
Officials estimate that since this flu season began, there have been at least 29 million cases of flu in the US, with 280,000 people hospitalized by the virus.
In all likelihood, 16,000 people have already died of the flue, the CDC speculates.
Encouragingly, the rates of visits to healthcare providers for flu-like symptoms and positive flu tests both fell last week compared to the previous one.
But CDC officials warn that flu levels are still ‘elevated’ and ‘it is too early to know whether the season has peaked or if flu activity will increase again.’
Flu activity is widespread in just about every US state and the death rate is nearly double what it was last year, federal health officials say.
Experts say this is further evidence that the 2019-20 flu season is on track to be one of the worst seasons in recent memory.
Last season, the flu caused between 37.4 million and 42.9 million illnesses and between 36,400 and 61,200 deaths, according to preliminary data from the CDC.
But the 2019-20 flu season started earlier than the annual epidemic has begun in the last 10 years and is circulating quickly.
‘Last year marked the longest flu season in a decade, and now we are seeing this year’s flu season off to an alarmingly fast start,’ said Rep Diana DeGette (D-CO), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations panel.
Health officials say influenza B is more common this season than influenza A and is responsible for the majority of the 39 pediatric deaths.
We develop antibodies to various pathogens by being exposed to them.
But influenza B is the less common strain of the virus, so most children haven’t been exposed to it.
In fact, this year has been the most active for the B strain of the flu that scientists have seen in more than two decades.
And with it has come the hardest season for children in at last one decade.
The virus has already killed 105, compared to last season, when 144 children.
Flu season is expected to stretch on for weeks, meaning more deaths are likely on the horizon.
Last year, the B strain of flu raised its head late in the season and wound up killing a raft of children later than usual.
This year, influenza A, which can still cause serious illness in kids is now raring its head, and experts anticipate it could drive a second wave that’s deadly for adults and children alike.
Panic has spread as frightening accounts of just how hard the flu is hitting the youngest Americans especially.
Doctors are stressing to the public that the best way to protect yourself and your family is to get a flu shot.
The CDC recommends getting the vaccine either in the form of a shot or a nasal spray. For those who choose to go with the injectable, there are two options.
First is the trivalent vaccine, which protects against two influenza A strains, H1N1 and H3N2, and one influenza B strain.
Second is the quadrivalent flu vaccine, protects against the same strains as the trivalent vaccine, as well as an extra influenza B virus.
The nasal spray, FluMist, uses live, weakened viruses which are meant to teach the body to recognize and ward off flu strains if you become infected.
The only group of people who are ineligible for the vaccine – shot and spray – are babies under six months old.
Doctors say taking at-home preventative measures is just as important as getting the vaccine such as washing your hands, not touching your face, coughing into your elbow or a tissue and staying home if you are ill.