The agency says the increase in flu deaths is due in part to young and middle-aged adults being less likely to get vaccinated against influenza.
Health officials report that more than 60 percent of the patients who have been hospitalized or died from the flu this season have been between 18 and 64 years old. Another 50 children have died from this season’s flu.
According to the CDC, this year’s flu vaccine has a 61 percent rate of effectiveness in protecting people against the flu – and if you haven’t gotten one yet, it’s still not too late.
Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC told reporters during a conference call that anyone who has gotten a flu shot this season is “quite likely” to be protected from viruses that have been circulating this year, but she also added that “things could change” because the flu season is not yet over, and there is still a lot of it going around.
Those typically hit the hardest by influenza have previously been young children and those aged 65 and older. The death rate can be anywhere from 4,000 to 50,000 people killed by the flu in America annually, depending on the year and the type of strains circulating.
The primary strain circulating this flu season has been the H1N1 virus. H1N1 usually hits young adults and middle-aged folks the hardest. It has made a comeback this year after making its last appearance in 2009 during the flu pandemic.
However, the CDC believes that those aged 60 and older may already have some immunity against H1N1 due to being exposed to a distant cousin of the virus in the past.
The agency also says that many young children may have already had H1N1, been vaccinated against it, or both.
Last flu season, the CDC said that only 35 percent of young adults were hospitalized for influenza, which some experts say could lead young adults to believe they're somehow immune to the virus, especially since only 34 percent of them have been vaccinated against influenza this year.
Nevertheless, H1N1 is the primary strain circulating that hits adults in those age groups hardest, resulting in symptoms of the flu that are especially severe and frequently last longer.
The CDC urges anyone who gets the flu to see their doctors as soon as possible because there are antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, that can help minimize symptoms – but only if treated right away.