California Influenza Epidemic Kills 32 in Second Week of 2018

Flu shot in California (Justin Sullivan / Getty)
Justin Sullivan / Getty

California’s reported deaths from the ongoing influenza epidemic jumped over 50 percent, from 15 for the first week of 2018 to 32 for the second week of 2018.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) reported that for the first 14 weeks of the 2017-2018 flu season ending Jan. 13, total deaths from the epidemic for people younger than age 65 spiked from 42 to 74. That compares to one death for same period last year.

California provides weekly public health epidemic tracking through 72 enrolled “Sentinel Providers” (physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants) located in all 58 California counties. Any patients suffering a fever above 100° Fahrenheit and with a cough and/or sore throat are laboratory tested for both influenza and pneumonia.

Of the 59,683 cases tested by Sentinels in California during the first 14 weeks of the 2017-2018 flu season, 13,834, or 23.2 percent, tested positive for influenzas. But the epidemic is accelerating. Of the 6,977 cases tested in the flu year’s 14th week ending Jan. 13, there were 2,161, or 31 percent, that tested positive for influenza.

The peak of the flu epidemic is not expected until the second week in February. That means the number of weekly cases could triple, and the peak number of deaths could be substantially higher. After its case peak, the flu epidemic will slowly decline until about August.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the influenza epidemic is now widespread in all 50 states. The proportion of Americans seeing their health care provider for influenza-like illnesses for the week ending Jan. 13 was 6.3 percent, the highest percentage since the 2003-2004 season. The number of Americans hospitalized with flu per 100,000 has increased to 31.5 from to 22.7 the prior week.

The CDC expects the 2017-2018 flu epidemic to be the most deadly since the 2009-2010 swine flu epidemic that killed 284,000 people worldwide and 657 Californians. What makes this year’s flu potentially so deadly is that there are three sub-type variations of the Influenza A strain, and three variations of the Influenza B strain circulating.

The most widely circulating flu strain, Type A, subtype H3N2, is this year’s most dangerous,. Despite vaccination being a third as effective compared to prior years, and taking two weeks before it is effective, the CDPH website states it is “not too late to get a vaccination.”


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