Report: Long flu season is ahead


NEW YORK (AP)

It looks like Groundhog Day for the nation’s flu report, too: It’s gotten worse and there are weeks of suffering ahead.

The government’s report out Friday showed the flu season continued to intensify last week.

One of every 14 visits to doctors and clinics were for fever, cough and other symptoms of the flu. That’s the highest level since the swine flu pandemic in 2009. Last week, 42 states reported high patient traffic for the flu, up from 39.

Hospital stays because of the flu also increased.

Experts had thought this season might be bad, but its intensity has surprised most everyone.

“It’s been the busiest I can remember for a long time,” said Dr. Doug Olson, an ER doctor at Northside Hospital Forsyth, in Cumming, Georgia. Another hospital in the Atlanta area this week set up a mobile ER outside to handle flu cases.

The heavy flu season has also put a strain in places on some medical supplies, including IV bags, and flu medicine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tally shows hospitalization rates surged to surpass the nasty season of the winter of 2014-2015, when the vaccine was a poor match to the main bug.

So far, however, deaths this season from the flu and flu-related pneumonia have lagged a little behind some recent bad seasons. There are as many as 56,000 deaths connected to the flu during a bad year.

The flu usually peaks in February. This season had an early start, and health officials initially thought it would also have an early peak. But so far it hasn’t worked out that way.

And there are some signs the flu season will continue to get worse. The CDC’s forecast though wasn’t quite as precise as Punxsutawney Phil’s; the groundhog “predicted” six more weeks of winter on Friday.

As for the flu: “There may be many weeks left for this season,” said the CDC’s Dr. Dan Jernigan.

Some good news: Illnesses seem to be easing a bit on the West Coast. Oregon joined Hawaii last week as the only states where flu wasn’t widespread. Friday’s report covers the week ending Jan. 27.

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