Mom's chicken soup is no match for this year's flu. Sadly, so far this season, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data say the flu has led to the death of 20 children, a number that's likely to increase in the coming months. By contrast, there were only three flu-related deaths in children at this same time last year. Although the CDC doesn't track adult deaths from the flu, they say that the number of hospitalizations from this year's epidemic is also on the rise. During the first week of January, the cumulative rate of flu-related hospitalizations was 22.7 out of 100,000, twice the amount it was the week before. Compare that to last year, when the hospitalization rate was only 7 per 100,000 for the same time frame.
What's more, in the 13 years the CDC has been tracking the flu, the epidemic is the most widespread it's ever been, Time reported. "This is the first year we had the entire continental U.S. be the same color on the graph, meaning there's widespread activity in all of the continental U.S. at this point," said CDC Influenza Division Director Dr. Dan Jernigan.
So why is the flu so rampant? Each year, different strains of the flu circulate. This year, it's H3N2 that's making the rounds. As Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told National Geographic, "H3N2 is historically the bad actor among influenzas." He also explained that people tend to have less exposure to H3N2 than other strains, which means they're less likely to have built up an immunity.
There's also the issue of the flu vaccine, which experts say is only about 30 percent effective. The reason? The vaccine is grown in chicken eggs, and "when this year's vaccine was being incubated, the virus mutated while it was growing and became less effective," according to National Geographic.
That said, the CDC still recommends getting vaccinated if you haven't already, especially considering that flu season can continue until as late as May. Once you get your flu shot, it will take another two weeks for the protective antibodies to kick in. In the meantime, check out these tips for fending off the flu.
And if you do come down with flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, runny nose, body aches, etc.), see your doctor right away about getting a prescription for antiviral medicine. "Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within two days of getting sick," the CDC notes on its website.
And if you are already sick, stay away from work! Your co-workers will thank you.