After this season's flu claimed the lives of 15 children, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has officially declared the illness an epidemic.
The flu season reaches an epidemic level when the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza reaches a certain threshold: 6.8%. According to the CDC's latest available information on the flu season, the percentage is currently at that threshold.
The number of states reporting a "high" amount of "influenza-like" illness activity has jumped from 13 to 22 since last week's report from the agency. There are outbreaks in every area of the country.
Hospitalizations also climbed this week with seniors and kids younger than four accounting for the highest rate of hospitalizations.
One of the major issues is that it's an particularly bad year for the vaccine. Approximately half of the strains tested were not covered by the vaccine. This is mainly because a mutated strain that is prevalent now was not being spread at the time the vaccine was designed.
But don't fret just yet. Epidemic-levels of flu activity in the U.S. are a typical part of the annual flu season.
"It is a bit early to make any kind of characterization about pediatric deaths this season," Erin Burns, a health communications specialist with the Influenza Division at the CDC told the Washington Post, "but from looking at the curve going back to 2011-2012, it doesn't seem like anything unusual is happening."
Though the vaccine may be flawed, health officials still encourage people to get it if they haven't already. The CDC says that it's "the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and spread it to others" and it "may make your illness milder if you do get sick.
This year's vaccine batch might have a limited effect on the predominant strain, but it could still protect against the many other strains currently circulating. And if you're looking for alternatives to the flu shot, you can check out some of the options out there.
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