Flu 2018: CDC Director Gives Bad News for the Next Few Months

"We were hoping to have better news to share today."

The 2017-2018 flu season has been a particularly nasty one, and according to officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

On Friday, acting CDC Director Anne Schuchat told reporters that the flu season has not yet gotten as severe as officials predict it will get. Just as Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Groundhog Day, indicating six more weeks of winter, flu season will also continue to make life unpleasant for a little while longer.

“We were hoping to have better news to share today, but unfortunately, it looks like the flu season continues to be particularly challenging,” said Schuchat. “Our latest tracking data indicate that influenza activity is still on the rise overall. … We could potentially see several more weeks of increased threat.”

Schuchat also noted that the week ending on February 3 saw 10 more pediatric deaths related to the flu, which brought the national total to 63

As Inverse has previously reported, part of what’s made this flu season so serious is that the dominant strain is influenza A(H3N2). The flu vaccine is only about 30 percent effective against this strain of the influenza virus, which was also the dominant strain during the 2014-2015 flu season. That particular season was classified as a moderately severe flu season, and the CDC has compared it to the current one.

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Influenza A(H3N2) is the dominant flu strain this flu season, and it's exceptionally yucky.

In the overall population, Schuchat reports that this flu season has averaged 59.9 flu hospitalizations per 100,000 people. The week before that was only about 51 per 100,000, suggesting that this season is still on the rise. Compared to the 2014-2015 season, the 2017-2018 season looks like it’s already worse. The 2014-2015 season averaged only about 44 hospitalizations per 100,000 people.

With all of this in mind, there are things you can do to protect yourself. If you haven’t gotten a vaccine, it’s still not too late to get one.

If you do get sick, there are things you can do to help yourself and others. The CDC recommends taking antiviral medications as soon as possible to help yourself not get quite as sick for quite as long. Schuchat says there’s no need to wait for a flu test before you start taking antivirals, since delaying them can decrease their effectiveness.

“Antivirals can be the difference between a mild illness and a hospital stay or worse,” she says.

In the meantime, get a flu shot if you haven’t, wash your hands, and stay home if you feel sick. Everyone can help protect the human herd by doing their part to take care of themselves.

Schuchat emphasized that CDC virologists are working on figuring out why the H3N2 is so resistant to vaccines and how we can come up with better vaccines in the future.

“It’s a wake-up call about how severe influenza can be and why we can never let down our guard against this virus because the virus is always changing, and we need to stay faster than it.”

“We do continue to recommend vaccinations, even this late in the season,” says Schuchat. The people at highest risk for serious complications include the very old, the very young, pregnant women, and people with heart or lung disease.

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Media via National Institutes of Health, CDC

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