Wednesday, February 7, 2018

It looks like Groundhog Day for the nation's flu report, too: It's gotten worse, and there are weeks of suffering ahead.

The government's latest report showed the flu season continued to intensify last week.

One of every 14 visits to doctors and clinics were for symptoms of the flu. That's the highest level since the swine flu pandemic in 2009. Last week, 42 states reported high patient traffic for the flu, up from 39.

Hospital stays because of the flu were also up.

Experts had thought this season might be bad, but its intensity has surprised most everyone.

“It's been the busiest I can remember for a long time,” said Dr. Doug Olson, an ER doctor at Northside Hospital Forsyth, in Cumming, Georgia. Another hospital in the Atlanta area set up a mobile ER outside this week to handle flu cases.

The heavy flu season has put a strain on some medical supplies, including IV bags, and flu medicine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tally shows hospitalization rates surged last week to surpass the nasty flu season of the winter of 2014-2015, when the vaccine was a poor match to the main flu bug.

So far, deaths from the flu and flu-related pneumonia, however, have lagged a little behind some recent bad seasons. There are as many as 56,000 deaths connected to the flu during a bad year.

CDC officials also said illnesses seem to be easing a bit on the West Coast. Oregon joined Hawaii last week as the only states where flu wasn't widespread. The flu usually peaks in February.

The flu report covers the week ending Jan. 27.

In the U.S., annual flu shots are recommended for everyone age 6 months or older. This season's vaccine targets the strains that are making Americans sick, including the key H3N2 virus. How well it worked in the U.S. won't be known until later this month. A preliminary report on the same flu shot from Canada showed protection against that nasty bug has been pretty bad at just 17 percent.

Canada's flu season so far has been milder with more of a mix of strains. But CDC officials said effectiveness figures in the U.S. may end up in the same range.