By Sy Mukherjee
February 2, 2018

The devastating 2018 flu season keeps getting worse, according to the latest weekly update from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). There have been 16 more pediatric deaths from flu since the last CDC flu report, bringing the total number of children’s flu deaths up to 53 this year. And the situation could deteriorate before it gets better.

“Unfortunately, our latest tracking data indicate flu activity is still high and widespread,” said acting CDC director Dr. Anne Schuchat during a weekly briefing on Friday. Hospitalizations from flu are far higher than usual, rivaling the 2014-2015 season, which was one of the deadliest in recent years. The most recent CDC flu update found regional or widespread virus activity in 51 out of 54 jurisdictions in the U.S.

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The dominant H3N2 flu virus is a particularly troublesome one, particularly for the young and the old (while the vast majority of flu deaths have been among the elderly, the rising pediatric toll has also shaken public health officials). In part, this is because the current flu vaccine isn’t all that effective; in fact, it may wind up being just 30% effective, or even less.

But it’s still important to get vaccinated—and it’s not too late to get a flu shot, either. Just about one in five of the 53 children who have died from the flu this year had received the flu vaccine, according to CDC influenza division director Dr. Dan Jernigan. Reduced effectiveness aside, the vaccine still has protective effects—and is particularly important for preventing flu transmission to those who are more vulnerable to the virus, such as the immune compromised, the elderly, and the young.

There are other ways to help prevent the spread of the flu, too. For instance, public health officials recommend regularly washing your hands. If you’re going to a hospital to visit sick family or friends, it may be a good idea to wear a mask. And if you do catch the flu, don’t go to work, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and take the antiviral prescribed by your doctor.

But the flu season probably isn’t ending anytime soon. While the new CDC update finds a slight downtick in cases in the West, it could still take weeks for the tide to really turn. “We are by no means out of the woods,” said CDC acting director Schuchat.

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