Deaths from influenza and flu-like illness, such as pneumonia, have now reached epidemic levels in the U.S. Last year at this time, there were already 29 children killed by the flu, so while epidemic status is not unusual for January, it serves as a stark reminder that the flu can be deadly.
The CDC reports that, depending on the season, influenza can kill anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people each year. The agency reports that flu activity is currently high and widespread in 40 states.
“The highest hospitalization rate is among adults aged 65 years or older, followed by those in age groups 0-4 years and 50-64 years,” said the CDC in its weekly report on flu activity. “However, those aged 18-64 years still account for 61 percent of reported hospitalized cases.”
The finger is being pointed to this season’s primary strain of influenza, H1N1, which is making people especially sick. H1N1 primarily targets young and middle-aged adults, and was first seen in 2009 during the swine flu epidemic.
This year is the first time since then that H1N1 strain has returned, prompting the CDC to closely monitor it for any changes, while checking to see if younger adults are more vulnerable to the strain since they’re the ones who are least likely to get a flu shot.