Flu season ramps up with 44 states reporting increased activity

NEW YORK — Flu season is getting worse in the United States.

Flu-like illnesses accounted for 7.5 percent of outpatient medical visits last week, health officials said Friday. That’s higher than the peak of the 2017-18 flu season and higher than any other season.

The annual winter flu season usually doesn’t go until December or January, but it started early and was complicated by other viruses circulating at the same time.

Traffic is measured in doctor’s offices based on reports of symptoms such as cough and sore throat, not on laboratory-confirmed diagnoses. So it also includes other respiratory diseases.

This makes comparisons with flu seasons prior to the COVID-19 pandemic difficult. Unlike other years, this year has not seen an unusually strong wave of RSV or respiratory syncytial virus, a common cause of severe cold-like symptoms in children and the elderly.

Meanwhile, 44 states reported high or very high flu activity last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

It does not bode well for the future. Experts say respiratory viruses may be more prevalent at Thanksgiving gatherings and crowded airports.

The dominant influenza strain is the type associated with higher hospitalization and mortality rates, particularly in people 65 years and older.

The CDC estimates the flu has caused at least 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths so far this season. At least 14 children were among the dead.

Flu vaccines are recommended for all Americans at least 6 months of age or older.

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