NEW YORK • Compared to the last season, Americans could be forgiven for thinking that the 2018-19 flu season would end up being a quiet one. At this time last year, the rates of doctor visits and hospitalisations were finally starting to fall following a terrible three months during which thousands died.
But this year’s flu isn’t done with the US yet. High levels of influenza were circulating in 33 states and New York City at the end of February, sickening residents and blanketing most of America’s South, where the illness typically first takes hold. Many parts of New England and the West posted moderate levels during the eighth week of the year, a slight worsening from a week earlier, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
At this point a year ago, doctors’ visits for the flu were in the middle of a free fall after patients inundated hospitals and medical facilities for weeks. This season, it seems to be hit ting a plateau.
In all, about one in every 20 doctor visits nationwide was because of flu like symptoms, including fever, cough and a sore throat, according to a CDC weekly report known as the “FluView”. That’s higher for this time of year than in any recent season except last year’s epidemic, which killed almost 80,000 Americans.
The season could go on for several more weeks, or even months, said Lynnette Brammer, head of the CDC’s domestic influenza surveillance team. The flu has been sending Americans to the doctor at higher than normal rates since the middle of November, and it hasn’t yet dropped off, the agency’s data shows.
“It’s not coming down like you would expect, but we have had seasons in the last few years where influenza-like illness was above baseline for 20 weeks,” she said. “This season may be on the longer side of it.”
That might be because flu didn’t peak all across the country at the same time this year, she said. Some areas, such as the northern Midwest, haven’t seen as much of the virus as others. It’s unclear whether that’s because they are behind and will still see an influx of the virus, or if they will simply have a lighter season, she said.
The other possibility is that another strain of the virus may sweep back through areas that were already hit, Brammer said. The type of influenza that’s currently circulating is H3N2, a strain that typically hits the elderly the hardest, while the H1N1 version hit earlier.
“Now things are shifting over to H3,” she said. “We don’t know how long that will go on. We’re just going to have to see what happens.” — Bloomberg