Flu epidemic grows along with some shortages of medical supplies

Posted Feb 3, 2018 by Karen Graham
Health officials say flu season continues to get worse, and there are weeks of suffering ahead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday reported 42 states had heavy flu-related patient traffic last week, up from 39 the week before.
An FDA laboratory worker injects an influenza virus into an egg  where it will grow before being har...
An FDA laboratory worker injects an influenza virus into an egg, where it will grow before being harvested—one of the many complex steps involved in creating a traditional flu vaccine.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
The CDC's latest weekly flu update shows that a total of 53 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported for the 2017-2018 season. One out of every 14 visits to doctors or clinics were for flu-related symptoms.
The flu is now widespread in 48 states and Puerto Rico, down from 49 states the previous two weeks. Oregon and Hawaii have the lowest levels of flu activity for the week ending January 27. “This is a very difficult season,” said Anne Schuchat, acting director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Our latest tracking data indicate that flu activity is still high and widespread across most of the nation and increasing overall. So far this year, the cumulative rate of hospitalizations is the highest since we've been tracking in this way, which goes back to 2010, Schuchat added.
One of the worst flu seasons in years
Health officials were worried the flu season might be bad, but its intensity has surprised nearly everyone. Many thought the peak of the season would have already arrived by now, but instead, it is still going strong. The flu this season is having the highest impact on people over age 65, followed by people ages 50 to 64.
"There’s lots of flu occurring simultaneously across most of the U.S.,” said Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC’s influenza division. That coast-to-coast onslaught “is an unusual pattern for flu in the U.S.”
"It's been the busiest I can remember for a long time," said Dr. Doug Olson, an ER doctor at Northside Hospital Forsyth, in Georgia. Another hospital in the Atlanta area set up a mobile ER outside this week to handle flu cases.
The season has been extra tough because of the strain of influenza spreading around. It was correctly predicted to be a type of influenza A called H3N2. And this particular strain tends to cause worse illnesses than other strains, and vaccines tend to be less effective fighting it.
This year's influenza has also put a strain on medical supplies, particularly I.V. bags and flu medicines. US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement Thursday that some antivirals, as well as flu tests, are in short supply. "However, at this time, there is no nationwide shortage of these products," Gottlieb said.