Flu-related hospitalizations reach 10-year high: 4 things to know

The number of Americans hospitalized for influenza has increased to the highest levels in nearly 10 years, according to the CDC's most recent flu update published Friday.

Last week, the number of people in hospitals with flu-like illness increased from 6.6 percent to 7.1 percent, the third highest rate of flu-related hospitalizations recorded in the last 15 years, according to CDC officials. The hospitalization rate peaked at 7.8 percent during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and 7.6 percent during the 2003-04 flu season.

"In the past week, we have seen increased influenza-like illness activity, more hospitalizations, and tragically, more flu-associated deaths in children and adults," said Anne Schuchat, MD, acting CDC director. "We also continue to hear reports of crowded hospitals and spot shortages of antiviral medications and rapid influenza tests. Unfortunately, our latest tracking data indicate that the flu activity is still high and widespread across most of the nation, and increasing overall."

Here are four more flu insights to know.

1. The most frequently identified virus type in positive specimens continued to be influenza A, with a majority of these cases — 89 percent — attributable to the H3N2 strain. This strain is associated with more severe illnesses in the elderly and young children. In total, the CDC has identified 102,364 positive influenza A and B specimens for the 2017-18 flu season.

2. The CDC reported 16 new pediatric flu deaths Friday, which brings the pediatric death count to 53 for the current season. This death count is expected to rise as flu season continues.

"The last time that we had this many per week was in 2014-15," said Dan Jernigan, MD, director of the influenza division in the CDC's National Center for Immunization. "For this season, only around 20 percent of these pediatric deaths had been vaccinated and half of these children were otherwise healthy."

3. Forty-eight U.S. states and Puerto Rico reported widespread flu activity for the week ending Jan. 27. Guam and Oregon reported regional flu activity; Washington, D.C., and Hawaii reported local influenza; and the U.S. Virgin Islands reported sporadic activity for the week.

4. The overall hospitalization rate was 51.4 per 100,000 population for the week ending Jan. 27. The CDC tallied 14,676 laboratory-confirmed flu-associated hospitalizations from Oct. 1 through Jan. 27.

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