It's Official: Flu Outbreak is National Epidemic


Flu deaths are increasing "sharply" across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 8.2 percent of all deaths during the week of Jan. 6-12 tied to influenza and pneumonia. That exceeds the 7.2 percent threshold used to measure an epidemic. In the following week, Jan. 13-19, 7.3 percent of deaths were attributed to flu and pneumonia, again an epidemic level.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare confirmed Wednesday that 15 Gem State residents have died since the beginning of the current flu season, which launched Oct. 1. All were older than 50.

“Our hearts go out to the families who have lost loved ones because of complications from the flu,” said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, deputy state epidemiologist. “Influenza activity is still high, and as long as the virus is circulating in our communities, the best protection for you and your family is to get the vaccine.”

Nationwide, the CDC tracks flu-associated hospitalizations, and found about 19 per 100,000 Americans are getting hospitalized for influenza-like illness. Based on hospitalization rates, the elderly are being hit hardest: About 82 per 100,000 people 65 and older are being hospitalized with flu-like illness.

The flu-related statistics come in waves, so increasing rates of disease and hospitalizations will likely be followed by increases in flu-related deaths.

That's why early treatment with an antiviral such as Tamiflu or Relenza is so important, according to the CDC. When given promptly within 48 hours of disease onset, the drugs can reduce symptoms and duration of illness, and reduce the risk for hospitalization and death, Frieden said. For high-risk patients such as the elderly, young children and those with asthma or underlying diseases, the treatments can mean the difference between a mild illness or a trip to the intensive care unit.