The CDC's weekly influenza report is out, and it's got concerning news on an atypically early flu season, with a "dramatic" surge in hospitalizations for flu over the past few weeks that have reached levels the US normally doesn't see until December. The health agency reports there have been 880,000 flu illnesses thus far, with close to 7,000 hospitalizations and 360 deaths. And the hospitalizations are rising across all age groups, with kids especially hit hard. "We haven't seen this level of activity this early before," Lynnette Brammer, head of the CDC's Domestic Influenza Surveillance team, tells NBC News. The Washington Post notes these flu levels haven't been seen since 2009's H1N1 swine flu outbreak, with one expert calling the data "ominous."
"Not only is flu early, it also looks very severe," William Schaffner, medical director for the nonprofit National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, tells the paper. "This is not just a preview of coming attractions. We're already starting to see this movie. I would call it a scary movie." The past two flu seasons had seen a drastic drop in cases, which health officials attribute to the masks, social distancing, and other preventive measures employed during the pandemic.
Cases of flu and other viral illnesses—including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is also currently spiking in regard to case numbers, especially among children—seem to be particularly rampant from the Southeast up north along the East Coast, stretching from South Carolina to New Jersey, and westward from Georgia to Texas. Included in the CDC's report was the first reported pediatric flu death. Although the agency itself didn't report any further details, KVEO notes that a 3-year-old girl who was said to have tested positive for the flu died of respiratory issues in Hidalgo County, Texas, earlier this month.
If there's any good news to be had, it's that early indications show this year's flu shot, which varies in efficacy each year, seems to be doing its job in terms of keeping people out of the hospital: A Friday CDC report on Chile, a Southern Hemisphere nation that's already gone through its flu season, found the flu vaccine reduced risk for ending up in the hospital by nearly 50%. Which is why some are concerned that flu vaccination rates are lagging compared to previous years, as "an annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect against flu," per the CDC. The agency recommends everyone 6 months of age and older get the shot. (Read more flu season stories.)