Why this could be the worst flu season in the US in more than a decade

Why this could be the worst flu season in the US in more than a decade

The number of positive influenza tests and hospitalizations in the United States is highest in over a decadeindicating that this flu season may be the most severe in years.

According to data According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been at least 880,000 cases of flu-like illness during the 2022-23 flu season.

During the first three weeks of the season, clinical labs recorded more than 9,100 positive tests, CDC data shows.

This is the most tests recorded this early in a season since 2009-2010, when the country was seeing an outbreak of swine flu. More than 21,000 positive tests were recorded that season, according to an ABC News analysis of data from the federal health agency.

Additionally, there have been some 6,900 hospitalizations so far this season with a cumulative rate of 1.5 per 100,000. According to the CDC, this is “higher than the rate observed…during previous seasons from 2010-2011.”

PHOTO: Flu tests in the first weeks of seasons

Flu tests in the first weeks of the season

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

At least two states have also experienced pediatric flu deaths in the past week, including two reported in Texas and one in South Carolina.

“What the data tells us so far is that we’re likely to have a pretty big flu season,” Dr. Timothy Brewer, a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, told ABC News. “It’s taking off at a faster rate than usual. We’re clearly in flu season, but what we’re seeing is a faster rise in cases.”

He added: “It seems to be spreading faster, particularly along the East Coast and the South. It’s unusual for the East Coast to see so much flu this early in the season.”

Public health experts said one possible reason cases and hospitalizations are so high is because during the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools and businesses were closed and people were staying home, they didn’t they were exposed to many viruses.

Because of this, people may be more susceptible to getting sick as their immune systems are remembering (or learning for the first time) how to fight off these infections.

“It takes some time for immunity to pick up,” Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, told ABC News. “Immunity… is what protects [us] against serious diseases in the future. And that’s why we’re seeing so many sick people in the hospital with viruses.”

Doron said there may also be more people getting tested for the flu this season than usual.

“In a normal flu season, we weren’t advised to test everyone with flu symptoms… now we’re in a situation where everyone with symptoms of any kind is supposed to get tested.”

Doctors stressed that it’s not too late to get a flu shot and encouraged everyone over 6 months of age to get a dose.

“It’s definitely not too late,” Dr. Justine Justman, an associate professor of medicine in epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, told ABC News. “Now is a great time. This week is a great time to get a flu shot. I wouldn’t put it off, it’s still worth it.”

PHOTO: A nurse administers a free flu shot to a patient in downtown Detroit on November 10, 2020.

A nurse administers a free flu shot to a patient in downtown Detroit on November 10, 2020.

Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Experts also suggested that Americans follow the same steps they’ve followed during the COVID-19 pandemic, including washing their hands thoroughly, avoiding crowded indoor spaces and even wearing masks.

“All of those things that we talk about over and over again about COVID, the so-called non-pharmaceutical interventions, will work very well to help you avoid the flu, just as they help you avoid COVID,” Justman said. “So we’ve all learned how to do those things. We just have to remember to keep going.”

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