by Allen J. Sheinman | January 10, 2018
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a surging flu epidemic across the United States, with 46 states reporting "widespread" outbreaks of the disease. For the week ending Dec. 30, 2017, the most recent period available at press time, the CDC reported 7,012 cases of respiratory specimens having tested positive for flu in clinical labs, a 25.5 percent rate for all specimens, compared with 6,373 cases and a 22.4 percent in the previous week, for a total of 28,135 such cases reported since October. While there is no hard data on how many Americans are suffering from influenza, the CDC reports that the proportion of people seeing their health-care provider due to flu-like symptoms was 5.8 percent for the week ending Dec. 30, which is above the national baseline of 2.2 percent.
In California alone, the Department of Health found a 40 percent positive-testing rate in clinical labs for the week ending Dec. 30, and public health officials there said the flu outbreak was showing "elevated activity" throughout the state. Officials counted 27 deaths in California since October due to the flu, compared with three deaths in the same period the year before. Meanwhile, USA Today reports that the Ohio Department of Health counted 2,104 hospitalizations for flu-like symptoms so far this season, up from 369 the previous year.
The CDC says that since Oct. 1, some 3,927 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations have been reported, which translated to a cumulative rate of 13.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the U.S. The most frequently identified influenza virus subtype reported by public health laboratories is A(H3N2).
Public-health officials recommend the following steps for flu prevention:
• Get a flu shot; while this season's vaccine included H1N1, H3N2 and influenza B, there are reports that researchers modified the viruses in such a way as to leave people less protected for H3N2 than in previous years. Nevertheless, a vaccine is recommended as offering more protection than doing nothing.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water; lacking this, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to prevent the spread of germs.
• Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that might be contaminated with germs like the flu.