Flu Update: Epidemic Deaths Due to Influenza, More H1N1

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Remember the 2009 H1N1 virus? It's back as a popular virus in the 2013-2014 flu season. Image by CDC

Remember the 2009 H1N1 virus? It’s back as a popular virus in the 2013-2014 flu season. Image by CDC

If you – and everyone you know – has been sick with the flu, that’s because its prime time for the influenza virus. January and February is when influenza typically peaks, and then will start to subside. 

Every week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes a FluView report on the number of influenza cases reported in the United States. The most current data available is for the week of January 19-25, 2014.

So, let’s take a look at the numbers and see where the country stands during the end of January.

Flu Update: By The Numbers

There’s nothing like cold, hard numbers to tell you what’s exactly going on, right? Unfortunately, while the CDC does report on various influenza conditions, these numbers may not tell the whole story.

You see, the CDC can only report what is being reported to them. If you have mild flu-like symptoms and don’t go to the doctor, these numbers go unreported. So, potentially, the numbers of influenza cases could be a lot higher than the numbers we’re seeing from the CDC.

Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at those cold, hard numbers and see where the United States falls within the influenza range.

High Flu Activity in the U.S.

Overall, the United States is seeing high flu activity. However, in the South Central and the South East areas, doctors are seeing a decline in illnesses. The North East and the mid Atlantic regions, unfortunately, are seeing an increase in flu cases.  A further look at the numbers show that the number of people seeing their healthcare provider for influenza-like illnesses (ILI) has decline to 3.3 percent; however, it is still over the national baseline of 2.0 percent.

The CDC tracks hospitalizations from flu complications by by age groups. The age bracket most affected – who has the highest hospitalization rate – is the 65 years and older group, followed by the 50-64 year olds and then the 0-4 year olds. The CDC has reported a seasonal cumulative rate of 20.3 hospitalizations for every 100,000 people for the 2013-2014 flu season thus far.

How accurate is the flu map? It all depends on doctor-reported illness, so may not reflect how many people are really getting sick. Map courtesy of the CDC

How accurate is the flu map? It all depends on doctor-reported illness, so may not reflect how many people are really getting sick. Map courtesy of the CDC

Flu Epidemic: Pneumonia and Influenza Mortality Rate

The CDC also reports data on Pneumonia and Influenza (P&I) Mortality  Surveillance and during this fourth week of the year, 8.8 percent of all deaths that were reported through the 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System were due to pneumonia and influenza, this is above the epidemic threshold of 7.3 percent. 

The CDC also tracks the number of children who died from the flu and  there were nine children who died from flu complications during this single week. Of these nine deaths, four were attributed to the 2009 H1N1, one death was attributed to influenza B, and four deaths due to a influenza strain that was not subtyped. This makes a total of 37 children who have died from the flu during the 2013-2014 season.

Getting the Flu Shot: Vaccination Rates

The CDC recommends everyone ages six months and older get vaccinated against the flu every year, including pregnant women. However, despite their best efforts, a new study reports that less than half of Americans have received their flu shot. The study conducted by the CDC entitled, “National Early Season Flu Vaccination Coverage” found that in the early part of the 2013-2014 flu season, only 39.5 percent of people were vaccinated.

Although the number seems low, it is actually higher than the early season report from last year, which was 36.5%. At the end of last year’s flu season, 45 percent of people six months and older received a flu shot.

We will have to wait till the end of the 2013-2014 season to see how this year’s numbers stack up against last year.

Conclusion

Remember, the CDC can only report the numbers that they have been given, so people who do not go to the doctor or hospital for their cold or flu symptoms do not get reported. For this reason, the numbers we see maybe slightly lower than what is actually going on. However, the CDC data still gives us a good picture as to how the flu season is shaping up and which age group is being the most effected. If you want to keep updated on the flu news, check out the CDC’s mobile app for clinicians and healthcare professionals.

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