Flu reaches epidemic levels

Published 2:10 pm Friday, January 2, 2015

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted in December that the country would experience a severe flu season.

The prediction appears to be spot on, according to a recent report issued by the CDC, which says the U.S. is in the midst of a flu epidemic.

Twenty-two states, including Alabama, are experiencing high levels of influenza-like activity. Reports of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths are elevated.

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“Flu activity is expected to continue in the coming weeks, with increases occurring especially in those states that have not yet had significant activity,” the CDC said in a news release.

Making matters worse, the H3N2 strain, the most common flu virus this season began mutating after this year’s flu vaccine was created, which makes it less effective than previous vaccines.

CDC Director Tom Frieden said half of the circulating viruses don’t match the H3N2 strain used to make vaccines.

“They are different enough that we’re concerned that protection from vaccinations against these drifted H3N2 viruses may be lower than we usually see,” Frieden said.

However, the director still urged people to get vaccinated, as it could offer some protection.

Officials with the CDC also urged the public not to panic, but to take precautions to guard against the flu, which claims the lives of 24,000 Americans each year, according to figures released by the organization.

This year, 15 children around the country have already died as a result of the flu.

Along with getting a flu shot, the CDC advises other precautions, such as frequent hand washing; sneezing or coughing into a sleeve; trying not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth; and avoiding contact with someone who is sick.

“We’re not even halfway through the flu season,” said Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer with the CDC’s influenza division. “It’s certainly not too late to get vaccinated.”