Nearly every state reports lab-confirmed flu cases, influenza-like-illnesses are already higher than all of last season, and five states are already reporting the highest level of flu activity possible, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Melinda Wharton, MD, FACP, Acting Director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said at a December 3 media briefing that it's the earliest that the nation has reached a baseline level of flu activity since the 2003-2004 season, which was early and severe, with the exception of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Last season's flu activity was mild and late, the U.S. did not reach a baseline level of influenza-like-illnesses until mid-March.
Flu is most intense in the south-central and southeast of the country right now, with Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas seeing the highest levels, Dr. Wharton said.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, said in a teleconference with reporters, that "We've seen an increase in flu that's over the threshold that suggests that the flu season has started," Dr. Frieden said. "So about 2.2% of all of the visits variable in different parts of the country are for illnesses that are like the flu. A significant proportion of which will end up being flu. That's higher in five states that have high level activity, and have as many as 4% or more of their visits, flu-related symptoms."
Flu shows signs of increasing across the rest of the country as well. Most of the viruses characterized so far this season have been H3N2 viruses, which are typically associated with more severe seasons. But, most of the viruses affecting people this season are well-matched to the vaccine viruses, the CDC reports.
Dr. Wharton also provided preliminary estimates of vaccinations through early-mid November. Vaccination rates among the general public are about even with last year at an estimated 37%. More than a third of the vaccines being given either at work sites or pharmacies.
About 80% to 90% percent of pharmacists, doctors and nurses are getting vaccinated, although there is a need to do better among allied health workers, aids and other health care systems, as well as in nursing homes.
Though each flu season varies, the flu can hospitalize up to 200,000 people and kill between 3,000 and 49,000 during a season. In past flu seasons, as many as 80% of adults hospitalized from flu complications had a long-term health condition, as did about 50% of hospitalized children.