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US in grips of worst flu outbreak in years

Patty Murray

Wisconsin Public Radio

During its weekly flu update conference call, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this season’s flu outbreak came early and shows few signs of abating.

Dr. Daniel Jernigan, director of the Influenza Division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said all states, except Hawaii, have reported spikes in visits to urgent care centers and doctors’ offices.

"6.6 percent of all people coming into the clinics and emergency departments had influenza-like illness," Jernigan said on the call.

Nationwide, Jernigan said there have been 37 pediatric deaths caused by flu. He said part of the toll could be timing.

This season, the flu intensified as young people returned to school after the holiday break. Jernigan said young people are usually the second most hard-hit demographic when it comes to flu, just behind those over the age of 65, many of whom have weakened immune systems. But this year Baby Boomers have also been hit hard and are actually the second most affected group behind the elderly.

"People 50 to 64-years-old are now in that spot," Jernigan said. "In other words, Baby Boomers have higher rates (of the flu) than their grandchildren right now."

Wisconsin hasn’t been spared from the outbreak.

While the state’s Department of Health Services doesn’t have figures on how many deaths there have been this season, state Influenza Surveillance Coordinator Thomas Haupt, says the outbreak is the state’s worst since at least 2014 to 2015.

Haupt said states like California have seen a decrease in reported cases, but Wisconsin is still on the upswing.

"We’re at almost 3,200 people hospitalized since Sept. 1. That’s up by about 650 from last week and actually we had 130 hospitalizations reported just yesterday. So we’re still at very high activity," Haupt said.

This season's predominant flu strain is H3N2. The CDC and the state DHS urge people with compromised immune systems, or those with underlying health issues like HIV or respiratory conditions to get the flu shot.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2018, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. Find more WPR news on KUWS-FM 91.3 or wpr.org.

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