Flu season off to a fierce start in U.S. with hospitalizations at 10-year high

The United States has officially “crossed the epidemic threshold” in regards to the flu, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths nearly doubling over the last week, federal health officials said.

Nationwide, there have already been an estimated 1.6 million cases of lab-confirmed influenza illness, 13,000 hospitalizations and 730 flu-related deaths, including two children, according to data released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medical experts fear the flu could come back stronger than ever — despite two mild seasons during the COVID-19 crisis — especially as the pandemic-weary public resist masks and other measures that slow the spread of respiratory viruses. The CDC’s Dr. José Romero said officials have recorded even more cases than expected for this time of year.

The season has yet to reach its peak, he noted. The flu usually starts to pick up steam in November, peak in December or January and continue into February or March.

South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Maryland, New York City and Washington, D.C. are all reporting high levels of influenza-like illness. At the same time last year, no states were reporting this many cases, according to the CDC.

“We’re seeing the highest influenza hospitalization rates going back a decade,” Romero said.

The last time influenza-related hospitalizations were this high was in 2009 during the swine flu pandemic.

Officials say they are closely monitoring hospital capacity and already have a plan to deploy troops and FEMA personnel, as well as supplies like ventilators, amid the surge in cases of the flu and respiratory illnesses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Experts suspect infections linked to RSV have increased recently because children, once sheltered from common bugs amid pandemic lockdowns, are being exposed to some respiratory viruses for the first time. The virus, which usually affects children at ages 1 and 2, is now sickening more kids up to age 5.

With News Wire Services