The government is flailing as the flu outbreak gets worse and worse, with a death toll nearly unprecedented in modern times:
The amount of influenza ravaging the U.S. this year rivals levels normally seen when an altogether new virus emerges, decimating a vulnerable population that hasn’t had a chance to develop any defenses.
It’s an unexpected phenomenon that public health experts are still trying to decode.
The levels of influenza-like illnesses being reported now are as high as the peak of the swine flu epidemic in 2009, and exceed the last severe seasonal flu outbreak in 2003 when a new strain started circulating, said Anne Schuchat, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s acting director. Swine flu, which swept the globe in 2009 and 2010, sickened 60.8 million Americans, hospitalized 274,304 and killed 12,469, according to CDC data. Deaths from the current outbreak will likely far outstrip those of the 2009-2010 season.
Deaths from influenza and pneumonia, which are closely tied to each other in the winter months, were responsible for 1 of every 10 deaths last week, and that’s likely to rise, Schuchat said in a conference call Friday. There were 40,414 deaths in the U.S. during the third week of 2018, the most recent data available, and 4,064 were from pneumonia or influenza, according to the CDC data. The number for that week is expected to rise more reports are sent to the agency.
It gets worse. The death toll in future weeks is expected to grow even higher because flu activity is still rising—and the number of deaths follow the flu activity. Hospitalization rates are already approaching total numbers seen at the end of the flu season, which may not be for months.
“Unfortunately, more deaths are likely to happen,” Schuchat said. “Over the next few weeks, we do expect and it would make sense to see more pneumonia and influenza-related deaths. The people who are likely to die are already in the hospital.”