Flu Deaths Rise Among Young and Middle-Aged U.S. Adults

Young and middle-aged adults are being hit severely by the effects of the flu this season, with a greater rise of deaths and hospitalizations than other age groups, according to U.S. health officials.

While influenza traditionally affects children and the elderly hardest, adults under age 65 accounted for 61 percent of hospitalizations so far this season, an increase from 35 percent last year, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. The adults also accounted for 60 percent of deaths, up from 47 percent last year and 18 percent three years ago, the agency said today.

“Younger people may feel that influenza is not a threat to them, but this season underscores that flu can be a serious disease for anyone,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement. “It’s also important to remember that some people who get vaccinated may still get sick, and we need to use our second line of defense against flu: antiviral drugs to treat flu illness.”

Americans who got a flu shot this year cut their risk of falling ill by 60 percent, about the same as in 2009 when manufacturers rushed out a novel vaccine against the swine flu strain that’s also circulating this season.

Flu-shot makers including GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Sanofi unveiled a raft of new immunizations for the current season, for the first time providing widespread protection against two B strains that can circulate. The virus dominating the current season, however, is H1N1, which is responsible for swine flu. It first emerged during the swine flu outbreak in 2009 that also landed more adults in doctor’s offices and hospitals.

More Effective

The influenza immunizations, including shots and inhaled vaccines, were slightly more effective than in the recent past when different strains of the virus were circulating, according to CDC figures. The vaccine effectiveness study, involving 2,319 volunteers, found an overall 61 percent level of protection. Last year, the vaccine was found to be 56 percent effective and was 47 percent effective during the 2011-2012 flu season.

Flu and pneumonia were the cause of 8.4 percent of all deaths in the U.S. for the week ending Feb. 8, compared with a high of 8.8 percent of all deaths the week ending Jan. 25. The peak of the flu season appears to be over in most of the country, with 37 states reporting low or minimal flu activity, according to the CDC’s weekly influenza report.