Flu Cases Are Getting Worse Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus as an international emergency, urging the U.S. army to take preparatory measures for a potential pandemic, which it should. Conversely, the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is not the only illness Americans should currently be worried about since the flu epidemic is on the rise and it does not seem to be dying down any time soon. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 26 million influenza-like-illnesses this flu season of 2019-2020, including 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths. Population-based surveys focusing on certain counties were conducted by the Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Network (FluSurv-NET). Exactly 12,167 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza-related hospitalizations were noted between October 1, 2019 and February 8, 2020. 

Influenza A viruses were the cause behind 64.8 percent or 7,881 of the total confirmed laboratory cases, whereas 34.6 percent or 4,213 cases originated from influenza B viruses and 0.3 percent had both infections of A and B viruses. The overall hospitalization rate was 41.9 per 100,000 population, as per the latest data published on the CDC’s website.

This flu season is comparable to 2018-19’s deadly epidemic and the season peaked earlier than it had ever before in 16 years. The difference lies in the increased rates of children and young adults affected. 

Flu While flu antiviral drugs can help in some cases, they are not meant to act as a substitute for the flu vaccine. Zohre Nemati/Unsplash

The CDC said as many as 14 influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported between December 28, 2019 to February 8, 2020. Of the 14, 10 were sourced from influenza B viruses and four from influenza A viruses. During the entire season in 2019-2020, 92 influenza-related pediatric deaths have been recorded, 62 deaths occurred from influenza B viruses and 30 deaths were associated with influenza A viruses.

The pattern of the strains spreading is unusual this year but similar to the pattern of  the flu emergence about 30 years ago, where B strains exceeded the A strains. It is cited as the reason behind why the immunity of people had not adapted better since the flu vaccine proved ineffective against some influenza  B virus strains.

The latter part of the new year, in an extremely rare phenomenon, saw A strains gather speed and spread simultaneously as the B strain, dumbfounding experts who did not predict the pattern. 

Antiviral medication is recommended by the CDC. "Antiviral medications are an important adjunct to flu vaccine in the control of influenza. Almost all (> 99%) of the influenza viruses tested this season are susceptible to the four FDA-approved influenza antiviral medications recommended for use in the U.S. this season," a post by CDC on its site stated.

Despite the vaccine not being able to weed out all the B strains, vaccination still helps and it is never too late to get the flu shot. “If you’ve been vaccinated, and even if there is a mismatch, you are likely to have a less severe infection when you get it,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Healthline.