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February 25, 2020

This year's flu vaccine is 45% effective. See the flu season, charted.

Daily Briefing

    Between 29 million and 41 million people have been sickened with the flu as of Feb. 15, according to the latest CDC data.

    Q&A: How any organization can achieve universal employee flu vaccination

    Flu activity so far

    According to Friday's Weekly Influenza Surveillance report from CDC, 47 states were experiencing widespread flu activity in the week ending in Feb. 15, while Hawaii, Oregon, and Idaho were experiencing regional flu activity and Washington, D.C., was experiencing local flu activity.

    By some indicators, this flu season has been worse than last flu season so far. For example, the data shows the cumulative hospitalization rate for the flu was 47.4 per 100,000 people as of the week ending in Feb. 15, compared with 28.9 per 100,000 at the same point last season.

    According to CDC, this year's flu season has led to at least 13 million medical visits and 280,000 hospitalizations. In addition, CDC found that the percentage of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness decreased to 6.1% in the week ending Feb. 15, down from 6.7% in the week ending Feb. 1. The national baseline for those visits is 2.4%. The CDC data shows between 16,000 and 41,000 flu-related deaths occurred from Oct. 1, 2019, to Feb. 15.

    Worst flu season for children in a decade

    This flu season has been especially bad for children, according to CDC. The latest data shows 105 pediatric deaths had been reported as of Feb. 15. According to CDC, that's the highest number of reported pediatric deaths by week since the 2009-2010 flu season, in which 262 pediatric deaths had occurred by the same point in the season.

    Experts say the high number of pediatric deaths this flu season is due to the fact that both influenza A and B have been dominant, leading to what's being called a "double barrel" flu season. Experts are unsure why the influenza B strain is more likely to affect younger people. Some believe that older people may have some immunity to influenza B, as it doesn't mutate as much as other flu strains do, meaning it's possible older people have caught the flu circulating this season before.

    Flu vaccine proves 45% effective

    Further, CDC on Thursday issued its first report on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine for this season, finding that the vaccine has been 45% effective overall and 55% effective in children. CDC made the evaluation based on how well the vaccine has prevented flu cases that are severe enough to either send a patient to the doctor or lead to a hospitalization.

    Experts said the vaccine's effective rate could change as the season progresses and other strains of the flu might arise, which happened during the 2018-2019 flu season. During that season, the vaccine proved to be just 29% effective overall, due to a surge of an especially virulent strain of influenza that emerged late in the season.

    Americans worrying more about flu than coronavirus

    Meanwhile, a new poll from the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has found that more Americans are concerned about catching the flu than the new coronavirus, which is known as COVID-19.

    According to the poll, 23% of respondents said they were extremely or very worried about the flu, while 22% said the same about the new coronavirus. In addition, 55% of respondents said they were not worried at all about the coronavirus, compared with 37% who said they were not worried about the flu (CDC Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report, 2/14; CDC "Flu View," accessed 2/24; CDC Preliminary In-Season 2019-2020 Flu Burden Estimates, accessed 2/24; Schumaker, ABC News, 2/21; Wesner Childs, Weather.com, 2/14; Edwards, NBC News, 2/20; Johnson/Fingerhut, Associated Press, 2/20).

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