Flu Season Is Here, and It’s Coming for Your Kids
NEW YORK — The flu is out in force. And so far this season, it’s been hitting children the hardest.
Influenza is a wily virus — it’s almost impossible to predict where and how it will strike as it circumnavigates the globe. There are, however, some patterns that routinely occur, allowing investigators and public health agencies to sometimes anticipate what lies ahead.
This is not one of those times.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said flu-like symptoms started spurring higher than normal doctor visits in the U.S. in early November — weeks earlier than other recent flu seasons.
The disease has also shown up in and shut down elementary schools across the South and West, in states such as Texas, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska. Much of the Northeast, a traditional hotbed for flu-induced misery, remains largely unscathed for now.
At the same time, the severity of this year’s flu has been comparatively low. The number of people dying from pneumonia and influenza during the first week of December was substantially lower than the 6.4% threshold used to declare a flu epidemic at this time of year. (A new report on the spread of influenza spread is scheduled for release later Friday.)
This of course is a welcome change from two years ago, when an intense flu season started picking up speed in November and held a sustained peak into January and February. Some hospitals were so overwhelmed that they set up triage tents in parking lots. Ultimately, about 61,000 Americans died, making it one of the longest and most deadly flu seasons in years.
So why do so many people have the flu so early this year, and why is it relatively weak? The type of virus that’s circulating may be the explanation.
“Influenza activity is a little bit unusual for this time of the year because what we have predominantly is influenza B,” said Lynnette Brammer, head of the CDC’s domestic surveillance program. “Influenza B activity tends to impact children more than adults, particularly older adults. And the elderly drive mortality and hospitalizations.”
But influenza B doesn’t let the youngsters off the hook.
“If we stick with an influenza B season, I expect this would probably be a mild year for the population as a whole,” Brammer said. “But for kids, hospitalizations and even pediatric deaths would be similar to any other season. For kids, influenza B can be just as bad as influenza A.”
It’s uncommon for influenza B to hit first in the U.S., which often sees an initial wave of the more dangerous influenza A viruses — the types that can cause a flu pandemic. But the season is far from over in North America: The current spread of a weaker Influenza B could easily be followed by a strain of influenza A.
“Anyone who tries to predict the flu season based on early information doesn’t understand influenza very well,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “The case numbers are up early, but it’s such a difficult disease to predict — I don’t think we can say anything about how severe it may be.”
There is one point of which experts are certain, though.
“Flu is here,” Osterholm said. “Now is the time to get an immunization if you haven’t already.”
The good news is that that components of the flu vaccine chosen for this year, a process done in March and based on educated guesswork, still look like the appropriate choices, Brammer said. “If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, this is a great time to do it,” she said. “There is still a lot more flu to come.”
©2019 Bloomberg News
Visit Bloomberg News at www.bloomberg.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
In The News
In The News
WILMINGTON, Del. — The vetting Kamala Harris endured to earn her spot on Joe Biden’s presidential ticket was like none other in recent history. It was at once a public audition and highly secretive. It took sharp turns as the nation struggled with a pandemic and... Read More
WASHINGTON — The fundraising email from California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris hit inboxes Tuesday evening with the subject line “Proud to announce.” But it wasn’t about Harris making history as her party’s vice presidential nominee. “I’m excited to let you know … that I’m proudly endorsing... Read More
President Donald Trump on Wednesday tweeted that the “suburban housewife” will vote for him in the upcoming election — but polls and past election results tell a different story. “The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me,” the president tweeted. “They want safety & are thrilled... Read More
SAN JOSE, Calif. — One is a seasoned politician, long considered one of the most powerful people in Washington. The other is a rising star, a trailblazer accustomed to breaking barriers. Both have deep Bay Area ties. And to many in the rest of the country... Read More
WASHINGTON — The payroll tax, a bedrock of the American retirement system since 1941, will end as soon as President Donald Trump is reelected, he promised last weekend. A new Iran nuclear deal will come to pass a month after that, he said Monday, around the... Read More
ROME, Ga. — Marjorie Taylor Greene was victorious in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District Republican runoff, and she is likely to become the first QAnon supporter to earn a seat in Congress. Addressing supporters shortly after 9 p.m. Eastern, she credited her willingness to buck party leadership... Read More