Flu Cases Widespread in U.S. While Some States Improve

Flu is widespread in 47 states and deaths from the virus and pneumonia are slightly above the epidemic level, though some regions may begin to see fewer cases, U.S. disease trackers said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 20 children died from the flu so far. The Atlanta-based agency doesn’t tally adult deaths until after the end of the season. Two children in New York have died from the flu, and more than 19,100 cases in the state prompted a public health emergency.

The influenza outbreak that prompted Boston to declare a health emergency has led to increasing hospital admissions and crowded emergency rooms in facilities around the country. Twenty-four states and New York City reported high levels of out-patient visits for flu-like illness, according to a surveillance report released yesterday. Sixteen states had moderate levels, five had low levels, and one, Hawaii, saw minimal levels of the illness.

“The bottom line: it’s flu season,” Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said yesterday during a conference call with reporters. “Most of the country has seen the flu and this will continue for a number of weeks.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a public health emergency in response to the outbreak with cases being reported in all 57 counties and all five boroughs of New York City. Nearly 3,000 people have been hospitalized with the flu, the governor’s office said in a statement.

Flu Activity

While flu activity remains high in the U.S. it may be decreasing, based on trends for the week Dec. 30 through Jan. 5, the CDC said yesterday in the report. Flu activity in the South and Southeastern U.S. may soon be see improving conditions, the CDC said during a conference call.

Influenza normally causes symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, headaches and body aches, fever, chills, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Severe cases of flu are normally seen in very young and very old people whose immune systems are too weak to fight off the virus, and annual vaccination is recommended for vulnerable people and those who come into contact with them.

Flu Season

Flu outbreaks can occur as early as October in the northern hemisphere and peak in January or later. In the past 30-year period, most flu activity peaked in February, according to the CDC.

Anyone older than 6 months of age should be vaccinated, the CDC said. The effectiveness of the flu vaccine is estimated to be moderate at 62 percent, according to a report yesterday by the CDC.

Also yesterday, the Boston Public Health Commission raised the number of confirmed influenza cases in the city thus far to 750. The total number confirmed in Boston during the previous season was 70. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a public health emergency Jan. 9, when the commission said 700 confirmed cases had been reported.

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