California reported deaths from the flu epidemic jumped by 50 percent from 10 for the last week of 2017 to 15 for the first week of 2018.
The California Department of Public Health reported that for the first 13 weeks of the 2017-2018 influenza season ending Jan. 6, total epidemic deaths for people younger than age 65 spiked from 27 to 42. That compares to 1 death for the same period last year.
California provides weekly public health epidemic tracking through 68 enrolled “Sentinel Providers” (physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants) located in all 58 California counties. All patients suffering a fever above 100° Fahrenheit and with a cough and/or a sore throat are laboratory tested for both influenza and pneumonia.
Of the 52,706 cases tested by Sentinels in California during for the first 13 weeks of the 2017-2018 flu year, there were 11,673 that tested positive for influenzas or 22.1 percent. But the epidemic is accelerating. Of the 8,432 cases tested in the flu year’s 13th week ending Jan. 6, there were 3,269, or 38.8 percent, that were tested positive for influenza.
CDPH stated that the rising flu epidemic is to blame for higher than expected medical outpatient and hospitalizations in California. The peak of the flu epidemic is not expected until the second week in February. That means the number of weekly cases is expected to triple and the peak number of deaths could be substantially higher. After its case peak, the flu epidemic will slowly decline until about August.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the number of Americans hospitalized with flu per 100,000 almost doubled from 13.7 for the week ending Dec. 30, to 22.7 admissions per 100,000 Americans for the week ending Jan. 6.
The CDC expects the 2017-2018 flu epidemic is shaping up to be the most deadly since 2009-2010 swine flu epidemic that killed 284,000 people worldwide and 657 Californians. What makes this year’s flu potentially so deadly is that there are three sub-type variations of the Influenza A strain and three variations of the Influenza circulating.
CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. Although millions of Californians have received a flu vaccination during this fall, the broad number of flu variants mean that only about 25 percent of those vaccinated are protected this year.
The most widely circulating flu strain, Type A, subtype H3N2, is this year’s most dangerous. Despite vaccination being a third as effective compared to prior years and it is taking two weeks before it is effective, the California Department of Public Health website states it is “not too late to get a vaccination.”