Doctors say we’re entering the worst flu season in a decade, Boston’s mayor has, a public health emergency has been declared by Boston’s mayor and sick people are being turned away from Chicago hospitals. So we should panic, right?
ABC News’ Alex Perez reports that this is the earliest flu season onset in a ten years. This eruption of the flu has arrived a full four months earlier than 2009′s outbreak of the H1N1 “swine flu” virus, unmistakably the worst flu epidemic to hit the U.S. in recent times. That outbreak began in late April, well into spring. Most flu seasons kick in around mid-January, but this year’s flu season started snowballing towards the end of December.
This flu season brings back the H3N2 variety of influenza, a strain that brings on stronger symptoms than common flu strains and stays around longer. The strain was rampant in 2004, which had elevated death rates from the flu. Dr. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, proclaims that “this is a bad year,” but also says that an H3N2 pandemic doesn’t appear to be quite as severe the threat from 2009′s H1N1 outbreak. Fortunately, the good news is that these strains are well-matched by current vaccines. That said, only 37% of Americans got a flu shot this season and it’s only effective in 60% of people.
Reports of Chicago hospitals being so overwhelmed that they’ve had to turn some flu patients away may sound scary. And admission rates are much higher than usual — four percent of Boston’s doctor visits are flu-related right now, up from the usual one percent. But it’ll take a lot more admissions to reach levels from the 2009 outbreak. CDC researchers anticipate that as many as 1 out of every 100 people visited hospital emergency wings during that pandemic.
According to the CDC, 18 children have died from the flu so far this season. However these numbers are only accurate up to December 29th. So far, it’s too soon to know whether the death toll will surpass that of the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, which took somewhere between 8,870 and 18,300 lives.
Click here to find out how you can better protect yourself from the flu!