Influenza activity is elevated throughout the United States, according to the latest weekly flu report from the agency. And because the flu season usually lasts about 13 weeks, we have about six weeks to go, according to CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden.
"So far, it's shaping up to be a bad year for flu, especially for older people and people with underlying conditions," Frieden said in his weekly flu media briefing.
This year's predominant flu strain, called H3N2, is associated with more hospitalizations and more deaths, Frieden said. But this year's flu vaccine only protects against about 31.6 percent of the H3N2 viruses out there because the flu strain mutated after the vaccine was created and manufactured. Still, experts say it's worth getting because it offers more protection than no vaccine at all.
Those especially at risk for developing flu complications include people older than 65, pregnant women and people with underlying medical conditions, such as asthma and kidney disorders. He suggested that those at risk get antiviral medications like Tamiflu as early as possible.
"Hospitalization rates in the over 65 age group are rising sharply," he said, adding that antiviral drugs could keep people out of the hospital.
The CDC also reported an additional five pediatric deaths this week, bringing the national total to 26 since the flu season began about two months ago, according to the latest report. But Frieden said past years have shownthis number tends to be underestimated.
"High" influenza-like illness activity actually has decreased from 29 states to 26 states from last week's report, but the country is above the flu epidemic threshold. Flu activity may be waning in states that had flu activity early, but it's too soon to say for sure whether the season will end early for those states, Frieden said, adding that the flu season is often unpredictable.
"Flu is now widespread is almost the entire country," Frieden said in the weekly briefing. "We still have weeks of flu ahead of us."