Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News
Earlier this year health experts predicted a rough 2022-2023 flu season in the United States based on patterns that were seen in the southern hemisphere. New CDC data indicates that this forecast is likely to be true.
The agency is currently reporting higher-than-normal case rates and hospitalizations alongside thousands of deaths due to the virus.
The influenza season starts in October and lasts until April, but typically doesn’t peak until January and February. According to the most recent report for the week of November 19, the nation is facing elevated activity all across the country.
There were 2,900 reported deaths from the virus and a total of 12 pediatric flu deaths through mid-November, five of which were reported the week of the latest published data, ending Nov. 19. The most recent report also showed that there have been at least 6.2 million illnesses and about 53,000 people have been hospitalized this season, which is “higher than the rate observed in week 46 during every previous season since 2010-2011.”
The data is concerning to experts because the data points are the highest they have been in over a decade and do not include post-Thanksgiving holiday sicknesses, which is often when cases begin to surge.
During the 2019-2020 flu season there were a total of 199 pediatric deaths, with the majority of deaths occurring in children aged 5-17 years old.
Most positive cases in the United States are a subtype of Influenza A, which accounts for 99.3% of the tested flu specimens, with Influenza B type accounting for the remaining 0.7%.
The report also found that southern states are experiencing the highest levels of flu-like illness, but the District of Columbia and other states are also seeing high levels of activity.
Some flu symptoms can be mild, but usually appear quickly, most people will experience a cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches, fatigue, and fever. While most people recover within a week or two, some can have complications, like pneumonia, which could result in hospitalization or death.
The flu can be dangerous for immunocompromised individuals, those aged 65 and older, young children, and pregnant women.
Scientists estimate which strains will be circulating when they reformulate vaccines each year, which leads to varying rates of efficacy.
Flu vaccines are offered annually for anyone aged 6 months and older and usually contain multiple strains of the virus within a single injection. Health experts and the CDC recommend vaccination as the best way to prevent the flu, although it does not always prevent infection, so vaccinated individuals can still get sick with the virus.
Dr. Marc Siegel, a Fox News medical contributor and professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, told Fox News Digital via email on Tuesday:
This is severe and early flu season in terms of case numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. There are several reasons, including that this is a bad strain of flu. We have had very mild flu seasons the last few years, so our partial immunity from previous exposure is lacking, and flu shot uptake is down — even though it is a good match this year.
Sen. Ted Cruz remarked on the update via Twitter, stating “Huh. Wasn’t called the flu last year.”
His comments highlight the belief by many conservatives, including those in the medical community, that the historically low rates of influenza from the previous two years were skewed. Some believe that many flu infections were lumped in with COVID data points since COVID and influenza have many similar symptoms. Also as Siegel pointed out, many viruses are running rampant since they did not run their typical course the past two years when harsh lockdowns kept people inside and away from one another.
A survey conducted by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) this year found that while 69% of the country believes that vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu, only 49% of Americans plan to get vaccinated this season. Twenty-five percent of those who have had COVID-19 say they are more likely to get the flu vaccine and only 32% of the country reports having confidence in getting the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time.
Experts are concerned that surging cases and hospitalizations from the flu virus at the same time as the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other respiratory illnesses will put a significant burden on the healthcare system. The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association previously urged the Biden administration to declare an emergency and mount a national response over the seriousness of increasing cases.