15 dead as US flu season intensifies

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned it might, this flu season indeed seems to be more severe than in years past. In fact, the CDC said the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza was at the epidemic threshold as of Dec. 20.

There have been 15 reported deaths caused by the flu as of Dec. 20, spread between nine states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Texas and Virginia, according to the CDC.

The flu is widespread in 36 states already, according to the CDC, while regional flu activity was reported in 10 states (Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia). Local flu activity was reported in Alaska and Oregon, and California and Hawaii only have sporadic influenza activity.

The CDC's most recent flu report shows flu sufferers often seek treatment: For the week ending Dec. 20, the proportion of people seeing their healthcare provider in an outpatient setting for flu-like illness increased to 5.5 percent, above the baseline of 2 percent. However, some flu sufferers end up in the hospital: Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 20, there were 2,643 lab-confirmed flu-associated hospitalizations across the country. Adults older than 65 had the highest rate of hospitalization, followed by children 4 years old or younger.

Flu outbreaks have prompted many hospitals to change their visiting policies, restricting hours and limiting who can visit patients. Akron (Ohio) Children's Hospital even placed greeters at its entrances to tell visitors who have flu-like symptoms to turn around, according to a Beacon Journal report.

Beyond restricting visiting hours to slow the spread of the flu, hospitals can access the myriad of free tools provided by the CDC that address 2014-15 flu recommendations. Find those tools here. The CDC also offers guidelines and educational resources on flu-related infection control in healthcare facilities.

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