Flu season is right here — and early pink flags counsel it’s on observe to be very, very dangerous. The most recent information from the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Flu View report present terribly excessive numbers of optimistic flu checks reported to the company from labs across the US. As of November 5, practically 14,000 optimistic flu checks had been reported, as proven within the orange line on the beneath chart. That’s greater than 12 instances the quantity reported on the identical time in 2019 (proven within the black line).
This yr’s early and meteoric rise in flu transmission is at the least considerably associated to the truth that extra individuals are being examined for the flu than throughout earlier years. Over the previous 5 weeks, practically twice as many flu checks have been finished at medical labs nationwide as throughout the identical interval final yr (about 460,000 versus 254,000). Extra testing means extra instances will get picked up.
However there are different indicators that these numbers characterize actual and really scary tendencies.
For starters, a a lot increased proportion of flu checks are turning up optimistic than in earlier years: Throughout previous dangerous flu seasons, check positivity has topped out round 3.6 p.c, however final week, practically 13 p.c of flu checks have been optimistic. When a better proportion of checks are optimistic, which means extra people who find themselves feeling sick even have the flu than in previous years.
Regarding alerts are additionally coming from docs’ places of work and hospitals. At the moment of yr, only one to 2 p.c of sufferers in outpatient clinics typically report flu-like sicknesses. However proper now, that quantity is as much as 5 and a half p.c, in response to CDC. Not all of these sufferers even have the flu — many may need RSV or different infections — however together with the flu testing numbers, it’s worrisome.
Moreover, greater than 5 instances as many individuals have been hospitalized for the flu up to now this season than on the identical level in any of the final 10 years. And in contrast to RSV, which poses the most important risk to the youngest and oldest, the extreme illness flu causes is extra evenly unfold throughout age teams. About one-third of the individuals who’ve been hospitalized for flu this yr have been 65 or older, whereas one other quarter have been ages 18 to 49.
These are particularly worrisome indicators given the well being care workforce pressure we’ve already seen throughout the ongoing RSV surge. And this early begin doesn’t counsel this flu wave might be a flash within the pan. The flu is presently worst within the southeastern US, however that may virtually actually change because the air will get colder and the virus migrates northward. Plus, instances haven’t peaked this early since 2009-10’s no good, very dangerous H1N1 flu pandemic.
The excellent news: There’s lots you are able to do to guard your self from the flu. This yr’s flu vaccine is extensively out there and free with most insurance coverage. And since each of the dominant flu strains presently circulating have been included in this yr’s vaccine formulation, there’s hope the shot will assist forestall extreme sickness in individuals who get it.
There’s additionally medication to deal with the flu, so for those who’re sick and in danger for flu issues, search medical care early.
And all that masking, ventilating, and air-filtering we discovered to do throughout the pandemic does lots to stop flu transmission (to not point out all the opposite respiratory nasties on the market).
Flu transmission truly dropped dramatically throughout the pandemic. Within the chart above, take a look at the blue strains, which characterize instances reported over the past two years. You’ll be able to see that there have been only a few optimistic checks in 2020, when mitigation measures — like widespread masking — have been nonetheless in place and most youngsters weren’t in class buildings. Transmission picked up in 2021, however was on observe with prior seasons — and was in all probability curbed starting late within the yr attributable to elevated masking and social distancing in response to the omicron surge of Covid-19.
This yr’s begin to the flu season is horrifying. However we will nonetheless take steps to flatten this curve.