February 11, 2020

Between 22 million and 31 million people were sickened with the flu as of Feb. 1, 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, 48 states were experiencing widespread flu activity in the week ending in Feb. 1, while Hawaii and Oregon were experiencing regional flu activity and Washington, D.C., was experiencing local flu activity.

By some indicators, the current U.S. flu season is worse than the last. For example, CDC's latest data shows the cumulative hospitalization rate for the flu so far this season is 35.5 per 100,000 people, compared with 21.6 per 100,000 people at the same point last season.

According to CDC, this year's flu season has led to at least 10 million medical visits and 210,000 hospitalizations. In addition, CDC found that the percentage of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness increased to 6.7% in the week ending Feb. 1, up from 6% in the week ending Jan. 25. The national baseline for those visits is 2.4%.

The data also shows that between 12,000 and 30,000 flu-related deaths occurred from Oct. 1, 2019, to Feb. 1. This flu season has been especially bad for children, according to CDC. According to the report, officials as of Feb. 1 had reported 78 pediatric deaths associated with the flu. Experts have said the influenza B strain that has been dominant this flu season is more likely to affect younger people, though they're not sure why. Some experts believe older people may have some immunity to influenza B, as it doesn't mutate as much as other flu strains. That means it's possible older people previously contracted the flu strain that's been most dominant so far this season.

Coronavirus dominates news coverage, yet flu is deadlier

Despite how bad this flu season has been, the flu isn't getting nearly as much public attention as the new coronavirus that originated in China, even though flu presents a much bigger risk to Americans.

William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and health policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said, "When we think about the relative danger of this new coronavirus and influenza, there's just no comparison. Coronavirus will be a blip on the horizon in comparison. The risk is trivial."

Nora Colburn, an infectious disease specialist at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, said, "If you didn't travel specifically to Wuhan, China, or have contact with a person with suspected or known coronavirus, your chance of contacting this is extremely low" (CDC Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report, 2/1; CDC "Flu View," accessed 2/10; CDC Preliminary In-Season 2019-2020 Flu Burden Estimates, accessed 2/10; Sun, Washington Post, 1/10; Szabo, Kaiser Health News, 1/24; Henry/Hauck, USA Today, 2/1).

Next: How to avoid the flu when you fly

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