This has been the worst flu season in nearly a decade, and it's not about to get better. Federal health officials said on Friday that the sickening and hospitalization rates are the highest they've seen since 2009, according to USA Today.
On Friday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 10 new child deaths.
“We don’t know if we have hit the peak yet," said Anne Schuchat, acting CDC director. "We could potentially see several more weeks of increased flu activity.”
They also noted that while deaths among children and adults have not been extremely high, they could increase in line with hospitalization rates.
It's unclear why the 2017-2018 flu season is so extreme and widespread. As of February 3rd, the flu is still affecting 48 states. Of those, 48 have high levels of illness.
One reason may be that the viral strain causing most cases of flu this year, H3N2, is known to cause especially severe illness. It's also hard to control with vaccination.
In previous severe flu seasons, which does not include pandemics caused by newly mutated viruses, the CDC estimates that up to 56,000 people have died. The vast majority of deaths have been in adults over age 65.
In recent weeks, data showed that 10% of deaths in the nation were from influenza and pneumonia. The CDC does not keep an exact count of adult flu deaths, but they closely track child deaths. So far this year, 63 children have died.
In the last severe flu season, in 2014-2015, 148 children died.
USA Today shares some more details about this flu:
Since this flu season started, Americans have been hospitalized for the illness at a rate of 59.9 per 100,000 people – a level not reached until the end of the last severe season, 2014-2015.
Hospitalization rates remained unusually high among adults age 50 to 64, a group typically less likely to get seriously ill than the very young and very old.
A total of 7.7% of visits to healthcare providers in the week ending Feb. 3 were for flu-like illnesses, a weekly intensity level matching that was seen in the swine flu pandemic of 2009.
Schuchat said people should still get the flu shot even though it is not as effective against H3N2. People can still be infected by other strains that are better controlled by vaccines if they don't get a shot. Those strains can even infect people who have already had the flu.
“There is a lot of fear and alarm about this flu season,” Schuchat said. "But most children and adults who get sick will recover at home, without complications," she said.
She urged parents who see signs of worsening illness in a child—such as difficulty breathing or a fever that goes away and then returns—to seek immediate medical care.
“This season is a wake-up call about how severe influenza can be and how we can never let our guard down,” she added.