Although September typically marks the beginning of the annual flu season, January and February are often the most severe months. This year is no exception.
This season's H3N2 strain of influenza virus has been especially brutal in terms of the number of people infected and the severity of symptoms, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.
Forty-eight states reported widespread geographic influenza activity for the week of January 6-12, 2013, the latest figures available.
The flu has been particularly life-threatening for two groups: the very young and the elderly.
For children, the week ending Jan. 12 was the deadliest yet, with nine more dying from flu-related illness, bringing the season’s pediatric death toll to 29. Children ages 5 and younger are at especially high risk of severe complications.
Tom Frieden, director of the CDC said that more than half of the children who died had not been vaccinated and most had underlying health problems that made them more susceptible.
But it’s the elderly who are taking the brunt. The highest proportion of influenza-associated hospitalizations and deaths are occurring in people 65 years of age and older.
The CDC reports hospitalizations for flu continue to be highest for this age group, accounting for nearly half (49.6 percent) of the 5,249 influenza-associated hospitalizations that have been reported this season.
“Seasons when H3N2 viruses are predominant tend to be associated with greater severity in terms of more hospitalizations and deaths,” according to the CDC’s weekly FluView Report.
People who are living with other health conditions are especially vulnerable to complications from the flu. These include pregnant women, and people with:
- cancer, or have had cancer in the past
- heart disease
- who have had a stroke
These people are more likely to get flu complications that could result in hospitalization or death, the CDC reports.