NEW YORK ( Associated Press) – Flu season in the United States continues to get worse.
Health officials said Friday that 7.5% of outpatient doctor visits last week were due to flu-like illnesses. This is as high as the peak of the 2017-2018 flu season and higher than in any subsequent season.
The annual winter flu season doesn’t usually start until December or January, but this time it started early and has been complicated by the simultaneous spread of other viruses.
The measure of traffic to doctors’ offices is based on reports of symptoms such as cough and sore throat, not laboratory-confirmed diagnoses. Therefore, it may involve other respiratory diseases.
This makes comparisons to flu seasons prior to the COVID-19 pandemic difficult. In other years, there hasn’t been an unusually strong wave of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, as there is now. RSV is a common cause of cold-like symptoms and can be serious for infants and the elderly.
Meanwhile, 44 states across the country reported high or very high flu activity in the past week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.
Experts say there is a potential for greater spread of the respiratory virus during Thanksgiving gatherings and crowded airports.
By far the dominant flu strain is the one most commonly associated with higher rates of hospitalization and death, especially among people 65 and older.
The CDC estimates that the flu has caused at least 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths so far this season. At least 14 children are among the dead.
The Associated Press is supported by the Science and Education Media Group of the Department of Health and Science Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.