January 20, 2019
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‘Bad flu season’ peaking, but far from over

Brian Swartz | BDN
Brian Swartz | BDN
A pharmacist prepares to inject a patient with a flu shot at the Brewer Walgreens in 2013.

For the first time in more than a decade, the entire continental United States shows widespread flu activity, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said Friday, and the number of people hospitalized has nearly doubled from last week.

It’s also more severe than most, according to the CDC.

“This is a bad flu season,” Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a conference call Friday.

“The simplest way to describe it is that flu is everywhere in the U.S. right now,” Jernigan said. “What we can see is there’s been a very rapid increase in the numbers of people coming in to see their doctors or health care providers.”

And the most common form of flu this year has been Influenza A, H3N2, which is more often linked to severe illness, especially in children and adults 65 and older, according to Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the CDC.

According to the CDC, there were 22.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the U.S. last week — up from 13.7 the previous week.

Most of those hospitalized are older than 65 or between 50 and 64 years old, and children younger than 5. In addition, seven pediatric deaths last week brought that total to 20, which Jernigan said was “just a reminder that flu, while causing mild disease in a lot of people, can also cause severe disease and death in others.”

In Maine, the number of hospitalizations increased by 53 last week, with 10 new outbreaks, according to a Jan. 9 update from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Penobscot County has seen 173 confirmed cases, the most in the state, while York County has 142 and Cumberland County 105.

Penobscot County also has the most hospitalizations due to flu, at 57, with York County at 35 and Cumberland County at 20.

But Maine Medical Center is seeing “pretty much a normal flu season for January,” spokeswoman Caroline Cornish said Saturday. “Things are pretty much the way they usually are this time of year. We are seeing an increase in hospitalizations but it’s nothing we don’t normally see during the month of January.”

While flu season may be just peaking this week, the CDC recommends people who have not yet been vaccinated do so.

“If it’s like other years, there are still 11 to 13 more weeks of influenza to go,” Jernigan said, adding that various strains of the flu tend to show up later in the season.

The CDC recommends that to reduce risk, people cover their mouths when they cough, wash their hands frequently, limit contact with others who might be sick, and if possible, stay home when they’re sick to prevent the spread of germs and illness.

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