Flu-related illnesses the week of Jan. 18 spiked to nearly 15 million cases nationwide as health officials from the Centers for Disease Control reported an additional 1,400 deaths since last week — 15 of which were of children.
In Pennsylvania, 24 flu-related deaths have been reported so far this season. Of those, two were between the ages of 19 and 49. No Pennsylvania children have died from the flu so far this season. The majority of the Pennsylvania deaths — 18 of the 24 — occurred in those 65 and over.
As influenza B — which tends to affect children and young people more — continued to dominate among tested cases, some regions are now reporting an increase in proportions of Influenza A compared to the B strain, according to the CDC’s latest flu report.
Despite the increases, the flu virus continues to affect young people at an alarming rate. More than 50 percent of reported cases this flu season are in children and young adults under age 25. So far, 54 pediatric deaths have been recorded this flu season.
Nationally, according to the CDC’s influenza report for the week ending Jan. 18, the percentage of virus specimens testing positive for influenza increased from 23.3 percent for the week ending Jan. 11 to 25.6 percent this week.
The CDC estimates that, so far this season, there have been at least 15 million illnesses, 140,000 hospitalizations and 6,600 deaths from the flu.
For comparison, the CDC reported a total of 13 million illnesses, 120,000 hospitalizations and 6,600 deaths in its weekly report ending Jan. 11.
The latest data from the agency shows that the virus has been widespread in nearly all states, including Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia-area counties with the highest level of activity include Montgomery County, where nearly 2,600 cases have been reported, and Philadelphia, where nearly 2,500 cases have been reported.
The CDC’s surveillance of influenza-like illness measures the level of flu activity within a state. According to the latest data, flu activity is high in New York City, Puerto Rico and 35 states. In Pennsylvania, activity is considered “widespread” — the highest on a scale of five geographic spread levels.
The groups most at risk of the flu are older adults, very young children, pregnant women and those with certain chronic medical conditions, according to the CDC.
According to the CDC, symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills (though not everyone with flu will have a fever)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
The flu is a highly contagious illness, which is why the CDC urges everyone to take the following steps to protect themselves and others:
- Take time to get a flu shot: While there are many different flu viruses, a flu vaccine protects against the viruses that research suggests will be most common. The CDC says it’s not too late to get this year’s vaccine.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- If you are sick with flu symptoms, you should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs such as the flu.
- Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
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