Flu Contributes to More Deaths in U.S. as Vaccine Falls Short

The flu epidemic in the U.S. contributed to a higher proportion of deaths last week as the season’s vaccine fell short of protecting most people who got it.

In the week that ended Jan. 10, 8.5 percent of deaths reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were due to pneumonia and influenza, up from 7 percent the previous week. The new number exceeds the threshold to define this season’s outbreak as an epidemic, the CDC said today in a report.

This season’s flu vaccine is just 23 percent effective against the illness, further evidence that the inoculation was mismatched to the viral strains that eventually infected Americans. Scientists have to create the formula for the vaccine months in advance of the flu season in North America so it can be manufactured and distributed, making it tough to adjust when different strains of the virus become dominant unexpectedly.

The death toll of children from the flu climbed to 45. Last year, 109 children died over the course of the full flu season.

While the number of people visiting the doctor for flu-like symptoms fell last week to 4.4 percent of all outpatient appointments, it remained above the national baseline of 2 percent for the eighth consecutive week, the agency said.

With intensity increasing in some states and decreasing in others, it’s too soon to say if the season has peaked, the CDC said. For the past 13 seasons, the influenza-like symptoms have been elevated for an average of 13 weeks, compared with eight so far this year.

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