January 28, 2013
(USA TODAY) -- Western states are getting hit with the flu outbreak that slammed the rest of the country this month. Although the flu appears to be leveling off in the East, South and Midwest, numbers are rising in the Southwest and Northwest, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
The flu is widespread in Washington state, said Donn Moyer of the state health department in Olympia.
"We're continuing to see increases in emergency room visits," Moyer said. "We have now got 17 lab-confirmed flu-related deaths, up from 12 last week." That's high compared with last year, when 18 people died during the entire flu season, but low compared with the 36 deaths in the 2010-11 flu season, he said.
Washington's flu peak usually comes in January or February, but it could be as late as March this year.
Oregon, too, is seeing an increase, said epidemiologist Richard Leman of the state Public Health Division in Portland. The good news is that Oregon isn't experiencing "the same levels of severe illness that some states on the East Coast and in the southern U.S. have had," he said.
In New Mexico, flu hit early and hard around the holidays and seems to be fading, said Chad Smelser, an epidemiologist with the state health department in Santa Fe. The worry there is that when the season starts so early, "there's an opportunity for it to last longer," he said.
That can mean more people infected overall and a greater chance of hospitalizations, complications and deaths, he said. The state has had five official flu deaths.
Nationally, 37 children have died from the flu this season, according to the CDC's weekly FluView. As of Friday, flu was prevalent in 49 states -- all but Maine -- and high in 26 states and New York City.
During the week of Jan. 13-19, 9.8% of deaths reported in the CDC's 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System were from pneumonia or influenza. That's above the epidemic threshold of 7.3%. The rate of deaths linked to pneumonia and flu the week before was 8.3%. Most deaths occurred among those 65 and older.
This year's flu season got off to an early start, ramping up in late December, almost a month earlier than usual, according to CDC Director Thomas Frieden. The flu strains this season appear to be causing more severe illness.
Flu cases are still "going strong," said Jim Heffernan, chief of primary care at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He's not seeing overflowing emergency rooms as he did at the start of the month, but the hospital is still getting several hundred flu calls a day, the doctor said.
"It does seem to have peaked here, but there are still a lot of sick people out there," he said, "probably more than we've seen since H1N1," the pandemic flu strain that struck the world in 2009. An estimated 24% of people worldwide got the flu then, according to a paper published last week in the journal Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses.
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