The annual flu epidemic is steadily spreading across the United States, with elevated activity in all regions of the country. While it is not considered worse than the average flu season, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are keeping a close eye on it as the main strain sickening people is H1N1, which may hit young adults harder than usual. North Carolina reported the death of a child due to the flu on January 13th.
“What we wonder now is whether there is a greater risk among kids and young adults,” CDC flu expert Dr. Joe Breese says.
Between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths a year are attributed to the flu, depending on the season. CDC does not keep an ongoing tally of deaths of adults from the flu, but 11children have already died of it this flu season, and more than 2,600 have been hospitalized.
The CDC shares that 20 states have high flu levels, while it is still minimal in the following 12 states: Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New Hampshire, new York, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Hospital emergency rooms (E.R.s) sometimes become overwhelmed with flu patients. The Regional Medical Center in San Jose, CA set up a tent in its parking lot last week to handle patients who could be seen quickly and sent home. Many hospital E.R.s are chronically full – experts say it is best to keep patients with infectious diseases such as influenza away from other patients.
It is not too late to get vaccinated. The CDC says the flu vaccine kept nearly 80,000 people out of the hospital last year, and prevented 6.6 million cases of flu. While getting the vaccine is not a guarantee of not getting the flu, it certainly increases the odds in one’s favor.
Drugs can also help people if they get treatment within a day or two of getting sick. There’s a medication called Tamiflu that can cut a few days off the course of illness – typically fever, muscle aches, cough and exhaustion.
The maker of Tamiflu says there are spot shortages of the oral suspension, formulated for very young children or those who cannot swallow; however, Breese says it is not an emergency.
“We have seen this before. You can actually create a suspension out of the tablet,” says Breese. “Any pharmacist can do it.”
As always, the best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated and wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.