Flu cases soaring in seven US states, health officials warn

The flu season in the United States is underway, with at least seven states reporting a high incidence of illness as cases rise in other parts of the country, according to health officials.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data on the flu on Friday. These show that there was a very high incidence last week in Louisiana and a high incidence in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and South Carolina.

It was also high in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory where health officials declared a flu epidemic earlier this month.

“We are underway,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

Traditionally, the winter flu season ramps up in December or January. But it started in October last year, and will make its entry in November this year.

COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, at a clinic in Richmond, Virginia, on November 17, 2022.Steve Helber / AP

Flu activity was moderate but increased in New York City, Arkansas, California, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Although flu activity has been high in Alaska for weeks, the state did not report data last week, so it was not part of the latest count.

Monitoring during flu season is based in part on reports of people with flu-like symptoms coming to doctors’ offices or hospitals. Many people with the flu do not get tested, so their infections are not confirmed in the laboratory. COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses can sometimes cloud the picture.

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Alicia Budd, who leads the CDC’s flu surveillance team, said several indicators show “continued increases” in colds.

There are different types of flu viruses, and the version that has spread the most so far this year tends to cause fewer hospitalizations and deaths among the elderly, the group that tends to have the highest number of victims from this disease.

So far this fall, the CDC estimates there have been at least 780,000 flu illnesses, at least 8,000 hospitalizations and at least 490 flu-related deaths, including at least one child.

Budd said it’s still unclear exactly how effective the current flu vaccines are, but the shots match well with the flu strains that are emerging.

In the United States, about 35% of adults and 33% of children have been vaccinated against the flu, current CDC data indicates. That’s down from last year in both categories.

However, flu vaccination rates are better than those for the other two major respiratory viruses: COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). About 14% of adults and 5% of children have received the currently recommended COVID-19 vaccine, and about 13.5% of adults age 60 and older have received one of the RSV vaccines that were Available early this year.