Aggressive Flu Bug Spreads Across The United States

The nation’s early flu season continued to grow in the U.S. this week, with no sign yet of a peak in the spread of coughing, achy, feverish illness, health officials said Friday. “I think we’re still accelerating,” said Tom Skinner, a CDC spokesman.  Twenty-nine states and New York City reported high levels of flu activity, up from 16 states and NYC the previous week. Flu was widespread in 41 states, up from 31 states, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of the week ending Dec. 29, 2,257 people had been hospitalized with flu, and 18 children had died from complications of the illness, CDC reported.  “It’s about five weeks ahead of the average flu season,” said Lyn Finelli, lead of the surveillance and response team that monitors influenza for the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “We haven’t seen such an early season since 2003 to 2004.” That’s the year that Joe Lastinger’s 3-year-old. daughter, Emily, fell ill with the flu in late January and died five days later. “That was the first really bad season for children in a while,” said Lastinger, 40, who lives near Dallas, Texas. “For whatever reason that’s not well understood, it affected her and it killed her.”
During that season, illnesses peaked in early to mid-December, followed by a peak in flu-related pneumonia and deaths in early January. It was over by mid-February and was considered a “moderately severe” season for flu, according to the CDC.  Finelli and other CDC officials say it’s too early to tell exactly how bad this year’s season will be. But over at Google Flu Trends, which monitors flu activity in the U.S. and around the world based on internet search terms, this year’s season has already topped the bright-red “intense” category. And at Flu Near You, a new real-time tracking tool that’s gaining about 100 participants each week, about 4 percent of the 10,000 users say they’ve come down with flu symptoms.  “That’s huge,” says John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston. “Last year, we never got near this.” Brownstein is one of the founders of the project coordinated by Children’s Hospital Boston, the Skoll Global Threats Fund and the American Public Health Association. Though it’s still in its early stages, it already has generated new, interesting and, most of all, immediate data about this year’s flu season. More


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