NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. flu season is underway, with at least seven states reporting high levels of illness and cases rising in other parts of the country, health officials say.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new flu data on Friday, showing very high activity last week in Louisiana and high activity in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and South Carolina. It was also high in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory where health officials declared a flu epidemic earlier this month.
“We’re underway,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.
Traditionally, the winter flu season ramps up in December or January. But it took off in October last year and will make its entry in November this year.
Flu activity was moderate but increased in New York City, Arkansas, California, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. And although flu activity has been high in Alaska for weeks, the state did not report data last week, so it was not part of the latest count.
Monitoring during flu season is based in part on reports of people with flu-like symptoms presenting to doctors’ offices or hospitals; Many people with the flu do not get tested, so their infections are not confirmed in the laboratory. COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses can sometimes cloud the picture.
Alicia Budd, who leads the CDC’s flu surveillance team, said several indicators show “continued increases” in the flu.
There are different types of flu viruses, and the version that has spread the most so far this year tends to cause fewer hospitalizations and deaths among the elderly, the group for whom the flu tends to take the greatest toll. .
So far this fall, the CDC estimates at least 780,000 flu illnesses, at least 8,000 hospitalizations and at least 490 flu-related deaths, including at least one child.
Budd said it’s still unclear exactly how effective the current flu vaccines are, but the shots match well with the flu strains that are emerging. In the US, about 35% of adults and 33% of children have been vaccinated against the flu, current CDC data indicates. That’s down compared to last year in both categories.
Flu vaccination rates are better than those for the other two major respiratory viruses: COVID-19 and RSV. About 14% of adults and 5% of children have received the currently recommended COVID-19 vaccine, and about 13.5% of adults aged 60 and older have received one of the RSV vaccines which became available earlier this year.
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