By Barry Eitel
SAN FRANCISCO (AA) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that the current influenza season is by some measurements on par with the “swine flu” epidemic of 2009.
The flu season, which started in October in the United States, may not have yet peaked, either. The CDC said 10 children died of the flu in the week ending Feb. 3, bringing the total pediatric death count to 63.
The flu season is at high levels in 43 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
“We were hoping to have better news to share today, but unfortunately it looks like this flu season continues to be particularly challenging,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the acting CDC director, said in a conference call with reporters.
“We may be on track to break some recent records.”
The hospitalization rate for the flu this season sits at 59.9 per 100,000 people. Roughly one in seven visits to the doctor last week were due to symptoms traditionally connected to the flu. The CDC said this is the highest rate in recent years and a level not seen since the swine flu pandemic nine years ago.
While there were no specifically new strains of the flu this year, the viruses ripping through the U.S. are hard to control with the flu vaccine. In particular, the strain influenza A H3N2, which has caused the most illness so far this season, is hard to contain through vaccination. However, the CDC said vaccination can help lower the severity of H3N2 infections.
“This season is a wake-up call about how severe influenza can be and how we can never let our guard down,” Schuchat continued.
In the weekly report, however, the CDC revealed that levels of H3N2 appear to be dropping. Influenza B strains and influenza A H1N1 are still increasing, though.