Has flu season, in full swing, reached its height?


Staff/wire report

NEW YORK

Flu is now widespread in every state except Hawaii, but the good news is the season appears to already be peaking.

It’s been a rough few weeks: Hospitals have set up tents to handle patient overflow. Doctors are putting in double and triple shifts. Ambulances have been sidelined while paramedics waited to drop off patients.

But an update out Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows patient traffic for flu is no longer skyrocketing the way it was in December.

“It looks like it’s starting to level out,” said the CDC’s Lynnette Brammer, who oversees flu tracking.

Still, flu is unpredictable. “I don’t know where it will end up,” she added.

Many flu seasons don’t really get going until around Christmas, and don’t crescendo until February. That’s how last year’s flu season played out. This season got off to an early start and cases surged over the holidays.

The Ohio Department of Health released county data on influenza hospitalizations across the state.

From Dec. 31 to Jan. 6, 73 people were hospitalized in Mahoning County, 38 in Trumbull County, and 23 in Columbiana. The number of total influenza hospitalizations in Northeast Ohio jumped to 292 in the first week of this year, from 200 in the last week of 2017.

The ODH said cases of influenza outpatient treatment are up overall in the state, but have decreased for the first time in weeks from Dec. 1 to Jan. 6.

There’s a tent in place at Kaweah Delta Medical Center in the Central California city of Visalia, where doctors this week have been pulling double and triple shifts to keep up.

“It’s like a M*A*S*H unit,” said Dr. Ed Hirsch, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

In Chicago, paramedics have been forced to wait at ERs with patients for as long as two hours for an open spot. That means the ambulances can’t be used for other calls, said Larry Langford, a spokesman for the city’s fire department.

What had some people worried about this U.S. flu season was the bad season last year in Australia. That country was hit hard by a flu bug that’s notorious for causing severe illness, and flu viruses spread around the world. Preliminary estimates suggested the vaccine barely worked there, and the U.S. was again facing the same H3N2 virus with the same flu shot.

That virus caused one of the worst U.S. flu seasons in recent years, 2014-15, when the vaccine was a poor match. It was back last winter but the vaccine was a better fit.

Health officials say this year’s shot targets the strains that are making Americans sick, primarily H3N2. How well it is working won’t be known until next month but it’s expected to be better than the 10 percent Australia reported.

The report out Friday shows flu and pneumonia deaths crept up last week to push flu to an epidemic level. Flu reaches that threshold most winters, even during seasons that are not considered particularly bad.

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