Sick Man

The Rising Flu Epidemic Has Only Gotten Worse

Figures recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has highlighted the fact that citizens of the United States could be heading into a serious epidemic of the flu virus. The last week of 2019 saw 46 states’ health departments report “widespread” flu activity as well as the number of those sick also increasing to the second highest amount of cases in a decade; second only to the 2017-2018 flu season.

The CDC announced that 61,000 Americans died from the flu during that period, although these numbers were less than the 79,000 they had originally predicted. However, it has also been claimed that the flu vaccine that is offered this year may not actually be able to compete with the strain of virus that is currently spreading across America. Although most experts are still encouraging people to have the vaccination as they should have fewer symptoms than those who opt not to.

The leader of the CDC’s domestic influenza surveillance team, Lynnette Brammer, has confirmed that while it is still too soon to know how bad this season’s flu outbreak will be, there are already cases of hospitalizations and even death, although these do not appear to have increased in numbers as yet. However flu and pneumonia deaths are currently at a lower rate than normal in early January.

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Unfortunately 2019 saw the flu season begin far earlier than normal with those in the Deep South – from Georgia to Texas – seeing large numbers of outbreaks. The virus continued to the Rocky Mountain States and California soon after with the Northeast managing to escape until more recently.

This pattern has been repeated in some countries in the Southern Hemisphere – where winter is between June and August – with Australia also seeing an early flu epidemic in 2019. It usually follows that if the Southern Hemisphere has a bad flu season, the Northern Hemisphere will too.

Despite this there are other ways that America is not “copying” Australia. The A(H3N2) strain of influenza prevailed in many areas of Australia throughout 2019’s winter while American’s appear to be struggling with the B Victoria strain, which usually appears later in the season, often hitting children more than adults.

Although the CDC makes estimates in the number of adults that have died from flu, they keep individual records of all children that have lost their lives to the illness – 27 children have died so far, although the peak season does not usually start until the middle of January. In the 2017-18 season 187 children lost their lives. Residents aged 65 and over are at a higher risk of falling ill.

Nonetheless, there has been an increase in the cases of the strain A(H1N1)pdm09 – a descendant of the 2009 “swine flu.” While H1N1 strains usually occur first they actually result in fewer deaths and hospitalizations per capita than the A(H3N2) or B strains.

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While it appears that this season’s flu vaccination is not suitable to combat the B Victoria flu it has been successful against the A(H1N1)pdm09 strain. The data that the CDC depends on comes from numerous reports collated by clinics, hospital emergency rooms and doctors’ offices across the country, detailing the number of patients that made appointments regarding flu symptoms.

However Kinsa Health has a device that users can connect to their smartphones, enabling them to upload their daily readings of fevers to their app. With around two million users across America using the app this can be a quicker way to measure how quickly the flu virus is spreading. So far the readings from Kinsa has shown that there was a peak in flu like activity just before Christmas with an increase of sufferers on Christmas Eve, however this has reduced by nearly a third in the two weeks since that date, according to their spokeswoman Nita Nehru.

Yet despite the fact that this week’s figures are dropping they are still ‘much higher than is typical of this time of year’ and may increase again now that the schools have returned from their holiday breaks. However these figures could be misleading as the company assumes a fever of more than three days indicates flu and not just a common cold. While the CDC has not endorsed Kinsa or their methods the data continues to show flu patterns up to two weeks ahead of medical clinics’ reports.

Currently the CDC has sampled hundreds of cases of flu and none of them have been able to resist Tamiflu or any of the other common anti flu drugs that are available. This proves that although these medications cannot cure flu, if they are taken early these medications are sufficient enough to reduce the level of an infection.