- The flu is still widespread across most of the United States, but may have already peaked on the West Coast.
- More people are hospitalized with the flu right now than experts have ever recorded.
- The flu shot may only be about 10-20% effective at fighting off the deadly H3N2 strain of the virus, according to a recent Canadian study.
This year’s deadly flu has pummeled the US in an unusual way: hitting nearly every state at the same time, and causing “widespread” sickness across the country for nearly a month now. And the virus just broke another new record.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that this year’s flu is putting more people in the hospital than ever before.
“Overall hospitalizations are now the highest we’ve seen,” Acting CDC Director Anne Schuchat said on a call with reporters. “Unfortunately, our latest tracking data indicate that flu activity is still high and widespread across most of the nation, and increasing overall.”
Take a look at where hospitalization rates are at right now across the country, compared with historical data dating back to 2010:
Dan Jernigan, who directs the influenza division at the CDC said some states are getting hit especially hard. Hospitalization rates have been four times higher than officials have ever seen in California, and double the 2014-2015 records in Oregon and Minnesota.
Most of the hospitalized patients are adults over the age of 65. But this year’s flu is also hitting baby boomers surprisingly hard. Experts say that’s likely because those boomers were never exposed to this year’s nasty H3N2 strain when they were very young, which could have helped them fight off the virus.
Kids aren’t being spared, either. At least 53 children have died from the flu since the season started in the fall. The CDC says only 1 in 5 of those kids was vaccinated, and half were “otherwise healthy” before they got the virus.
Jernigan says there are some signs that the flu season is easing up in certain spots. The western US is beginning to see lower flu rates (the flu is no longer considered “widespread” in Oregon), but eastern and southern states are still reporting lots of sick people.
Shots aren’t doing a great job at helping out. The H3N2 strain that’s causing most sicknesses is proving especially difficult for vaccine-makers to fight. A Canadian study out in January suggests that this year’s egg-based vaccine is likely less than 20% effective against the nasty “Aussie flu,” as H3N2 is sometimes called.
But it’s still a good idea to get a shot. Other strains of the flu, like H1N1 and Influenza B viruses, are also circulating, and they’re better served by the vaccine. Also, having a flu shot can make your illness milder if you get sick between now and the end of the flu season, which can last as late as May.