According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 80,000 people lost their lives to the flu in 2018. If that was any indication of things to come, then 2019 could be record-breaking. The CDC is closely monitoring the number of people affected by the flu this year, and the numbers are staggering. The past month, the cases are in an upsurge as the winter temperatures, and harsh weather settles in the country. Experts are concerned because there hasn't been a flu season that started off this strong in over a decade.
Elevated Levels Plaque the Entire Country
Flu season runs from October through February of each year. The first month showed widespread activity, particularly in areas from Texas to Georgia. Why are the southern states being so harshly affected? Well, there is no apparent reason. However, the virus seems to have made a swing north as it is now affecting both the Northern and Western half of the states. No one is immune, and the entire country is seeing an increase in flu activity. Sadly, the season has just begun, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
It seems that the flu outbreak started much earlier this year, and the activity has steadily increased over the past five weeks. The last flu season that had activity so early was in 2003. The CDC is tracking these trends and trying to get people to be proactive about preventative measures.
Just how wrong are the numbers for 2019? Well, from October 1st through December 7th, there are 3.7 million confirmed cases. Of those instances, it’s estimated that about 41,000 people have been hospitalized for treatment. Even more shocking is that there have been 3,300 deaths, of which ten were infants.
The part that is baffling the medical community and the CDC is that the cases are almost all traced back to influenza B. Usually strains of flu A show up in the early part of the season, and the B strain shows up towards the latter part of the year. The fact that the B strain has shown up so early concerns officials since it’s known to cause severe complications in younger children and the elderly.
Historically, the worst months for the flu is January through February. However, the medical community is preparing for its peak to hit around December this year. It’s just an educated guess based on past trends as the flu can be very difficult to predict.
The CDC flu predictions propose flu activity will continue to intensify. They also believe numbers will remain elevated with a 40 percent chance of peaking December. Another scenario shows a 30 percent chance that the flu virus peaks in January, which would mean that Americans will see the most and worse cases in February of 2020. Regardless of when it crests, there is still time for people to get the vaccinations they need to protect their health.
Where Are the Areas of Concern?
To date, the most substantial outbreaks seem to be in the Southern half of the country and Puerto Rico. There are 11 states affected that have the CDC’s watchful eye over their numbers. Last week, the Children’s Hospital in New Orleans told officials that they documented over 1,400 cases. Last year at this time, they only had nine confirmed flu diagnoses. Ochsner Health System, which is also in Louisiana, reported an increased percentage of 1,385 percent this year. When compared with last year’s historical data, they are prepared for pandemonium.
States in every region are showing that the flu strain this year is aggressive. Many areas are shutting down schools to lessen outbreaks due to life-threatening complications. The hot spots around the country are the following states:
The Three Circulating Strains
The CDC is receiving data from cases that involve three strains of the flu virus, which are influenza A H1N1, influenza A H3N2, and influenza B/Victoria. Historically, one of the strains is predominant early in the season; then, there are other consecutive ripples as the season continues. Consequently, this year is not going with past trends. There is a substantial co-circulation of all three of the viruses. Connecticut is one of the states that has reported instances of all three strains.
The B/Victoria strain is prevalent now, which is uncommon at this time of year. However, it doesn’t mean that it will remain elevated throughout the rest of the season. The flu patterns are entirely unpredictable each year, so it’s hard to say what will happen.
A representative from Stanford Health Care, Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, states that the season often starts slow and then increases as time goes on. She points out that if the flu season starts mild, then it usually finishes with a bang. However, if things begin so intensely, the season typically ends more mildly. Consequently, there is no reliability in using past predictions because anything can and will happen when dealing with the flu virus.
The Importance of Getting the Flu Shot
Even though Americans are two months into the flu season, it’s still too early to predict how the rest of the year will fare. It’s essential to get a flu shot to offer protection. The data collected from the cases so far this year is dismal, so it’s nearly impossible to make any conclusions about the vaccine's success rate at this time.
Additionally, the influenza strains transform each year, which affects how the vaccine works. Regardless, it’s still best to get the flu vaccination to avoid getting sick and experiencing any of the complications that go along with it. Some say that the vaccination is imperfect, yet it’s still the best chance a person must protect themselves during the flu season.