By Steven Reinberg
FRIDAY, Feb. 8, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Though much of the United States is in the grip of the flu, the season hasn't peaked yet, health officials said Friday.
As of Feb. 2, flu is widespread in 47 states, and 24 states are experiencing high levels of the disease. In addition, hospitalizations are increasing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Flu activity has continued to increase this week," said Lynnette Brammer, the lead of CDC's domestic influenza surveillance team.
The most common type of flu around is still the influenza A strain H1N1. But it may be waning, Brammer said, as the level of influenza A H3N2 has increased.
Both of these flu strains are in this year's vaccine, but while the H1N1 component is up to 65 percent effective, the effectiveness of the H3N2 is far less, according to the CDC.
Even though it is nearly mid-February, the flu season is expected to continue for several more weeks, probably well into March, Brammer said.
"There's still a lot more flu season to come," she said. "I expect activity to continue for several more weeks."
That's why she's urging anyone who hasn't yet been vaccinated to get a flu shot. "It's not too late," Brammer said.
An underrated benefit of the vaccine is that even if you get sick, your flu will be milder than if you haven't been vaccinated. A milder flu can prevent complications like pneumonia that can be deadly, especially to the very young and very old.
Brammer also stressed that getting vaccinated not only protects you, but those around you, as well.
According to the CDC, flu activity is high in New York City, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.
It's still too early to tell how severe this season will be, Brammer said. So far, the season has been much less severe than last year when the H3N2 virus predominated. Last year, flu sent nearly 1 million Americans to the hospital and killed about 80,000.
This season is still classified as a less severe season, Brammer said. "But we're not finished yet," she said. "We'll have to see how it plays out."
The CDC doesn't track adult deaths from flu, but they do keep tabs on pediatric deaths. This week, four more children died from flu, bringing the total to 28.
The best way to protect yourself and those around you is to get a flu shot, and there's still time to get vaccinated, Brammer said.
The CDC recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older get vaccinated.
Getting a flu shot should be at the top of the list for those at high risk for flu, including the elderly, people with heart disease or lung disease, and pregnant women.
Brammer added that this year's vaccine is well matched to the circulating strains of flu, and vaccine is still available. "I haven't heard of any shortages," she said.
As long as flu is circulating, it's not too late to get vaccinated. "And right now, flu is circulating at a pretty high level," Brammer said.
If you get the flu, antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza can make your illness less severe. But if you're sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home so you don't infect others.
Brammer wouldn't be surprised if the flu season doesn't peak for several more weeks. It also wouldn't surprise her if the H1N1 virus peaks before the H3N2 virus.
In any case, even when the season peaks, there's still a long way to go before it's over, she said.
For more information on flu, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Lynnette Brammer, M.P.H., lead, domestic influenza surveillance team, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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