'The floodgates opened': Flu hits hospitals

In a one week period, new flu hospitalizations in the U.S. rose nearly 30 percent, and experts say cases are expected to continue rising in the coming weeks. 

The CDC's latest FluView report indicates 11,269 lab-confirmed flu patients were admitted to hospitals for the week ending Nov. 19, up from 8,707 admitted the week prior. The agency estimates there have been at least 53,000 flu-related hospitalizations since October, the highest rate seen this early in the season in more than a decade. 

"People don't have a good appreciation for how severe flu can be," Lynette Brammer, head of the CDC's domestic influenza surveillance team, told NBC News in a Nov. 28 report. "It's a pretty safe bet that flu activity is going to continue on for several more weeks or months." 

Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University Medical Center is starting to see an influx of flu patients in its intensive care unit. 

"Three weeks ago, we were not seeing much flu in our ICU," Todd Rice, MD, director of the medical ICU at Vanderbilt, told the news outlet. "Then the floodgates opened." 

Dr. Rice estimates 30 percent to 40 percent of the ICU's most critical patients have the flu, adding that most patients sick enough to require intensive care have tested positive for the H1N1 strain. Of the samples reported to the CDC this season, 76 percent have tested positive for H3N2 and 24 percent for H1N1, both of which may cause severe illness. 

In North Texas, flu hospitalizations now outnumber COVID-19 hospitalizations for the first time since the start of the pandemic, according to a Nov. 29 report from The Dallas Morning News. There were 479 flu patients across North Texas hospitals as of Nov. 28, up from 296 a week earlier. COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region have also risen, from 306 on Nov. 23 to 444 as of Nov. 28. 

An increase in flu hospitalizations in the Cincinnati area has caused at least three hospitals to request emergency medical services reroute patients elsewhere, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported Nov. 28. The region saw a 73 percent increase in flu hospitalizations over the weekend, from 83 on Nov. 25 to 144 on Nov. 28. 

The flu is hospitalizing more children just as the nation's spike in respiratory syncytial virus appears to be at or near its peak. CDC data cited by Bloomberg indicates RSV hospitalization rates appear to be slowing, falling by more than third to about 10.6 per 100,000 for the week ending Nov. 19. At the same time, the flu hospitalization rate among those under 18 was 13 per 100,000 for the week ending Nov. 19, levels not seen in more than a decade. Behind adults 65 and older, kids ages 4 and under make up the largest group of people hospitalized for flu. 

Health experts say the flu's early arrival this year is in part to blame for the high rates of activity and hospitalizations, since many people were infected before they were able to get vaccinated. Flu season typically peaks in January or February. 

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