According to the latest federal data, more than 100 American children have died of flu this season.
Since the first child died early this season – a four-year-old in California who died in September – the death toll among children has risen to 105 in the US.
For comparison: last year there were no deaths during the week ending January 11.
Only 13 children died of flu last week. In comparison, no child died in the same week in 2019, 2018 or 2017.
Influenza B is unusually active this year compared to most and accounts for 72 of the deaths among children this year.
More children have died this flu season than in a single season last year, with pediatric deaths this season already overtaking the total seas of last year (second from the right)
Officials estimate that since the start of this flu season there have been at least 29 million cases of flu in the US, with 280,000 admitted to hospital.
In all likelihood, 16,000 people have already died from the flu, the CDC speculates.
It is encouraging that the number of visits to health care providers for flu-like symptoms and positive flu tests both fell last week compared to the previous one.
But CDC officials warn that flu levels are still “elevated” and “it’s too early to know if the season has peaked or whether flu activity will increase again.”
Flu activity is widespread in just about every US state and the death rate is nearly double that of last year, federal health officials say.
Experts say this is further evidence that the 2019-2020 flu season is on track as one of the worst seasons in recent memory.
Last season, the flu caused between 37.4 million and 42.9 million illnesses and between 36,400 and 61,200 deaths, according to preliminary data from the CDC.
But the 2019-2020 flu season began earlier than the annual epidemic in the last 10 years and is rapidly circulating.
“Last year marked the longest flu season in a decade, and now we are seeing the flu season this year start alarmingly,” says Rep Diana DeGette (D-CO), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations panel.
Health officials say that influenza B is more prevalent this season than influenza A and is responsible for the majority of 39 pediatric deaths.
We develop antibodies against various pathogens by being exposed to it.
But influenza B is the less common strain of the virus, so most children are not exposed to it.
In fact, this year has been the most active for the B strain of the flu that scientists have seen in more than two decades.
And with that comes the most difficult season for children in the last decade.
The virus has already killed 105 compared to last season, when 144 children.
The flu season is expected to last for weeks, meaning that there are probably more deaths on the horizon.
Last year the B flu strain raised its head late in the season and later killed a raft of children than normal.
This year, flu A, which can still cause serious illness in children, is now upside-down, and experts expect it can cause a second wave that kills both adults and children.
Panic has spread like frightening reports about how hard the flu is affecting the youngest Americans in particular.
Doctors emphasize to the public that the best way to protect yourself and your family is to get a flu shot.
The CDC recommends getting the vaccine in the form of an injection or nasal spray. For those who choose to go with the injectable, there are two options.
First is the trivalent vaccine, which protects against two influenza A strains, H1N1 and H3N2, and one influenza B strain.
Second, it is quadrivalent flu vaccine, protecting against the same strains as the trivalent vaccine, as well as an additional influenza B virus.
The nasal spray, FluMist, uses live, attenuated viruses designed to help the body recognize and ward off flu strains if you become infected.
The only group of people who are not eligible for the vaccine – shot and spray – are babies younger than six months old.
Doctors say taking preventive measures at home is just as important as getting the vaccine, such as washing your hands, not touching your face, coughing in your elbow or tissue and staying home when you are sick.