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May 23, 2024

Flu Deaths Mount as Virulent Strains Spread

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Dec 22, 2023

North Carolina has reported 22 flu-related deaths so far this flu season, amid concerning signs that this could be a particularly severe season nationwide. While flu activity is still low overall, the prevalent flu strains are hitting children and young adults harder than usual.

Myocarditis Causing Pediatric Deaths

On December 12th, a nine-year-old girl from North Carolina died from myocarditis believed to have been triggered by an influenza B infection. Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle, which can lead to heart failure in severe cases. The girl had tested positive for flu just three days prior and had no known preexisting conditions.

This tragic case echoes the December 5th death of a nine-year-old North Carolina boy from influenza A-related myocarditis and cardiogenic shock. He suffered cardiac arrest two days after first showing symptoms.

Local pediatricians warn that influenza strains this year seem to be more aggressive and causing more severe symptoms in children and teenagers. They advise parents to promptly seek medical care if children develop any chest pain, labored breathing, blue lips or fingers, or extreme fatigue alongside flu symptoms.

Hospitalizations Above Average

CDC surveillance shows cumulative hospitalization rates so far this season exceed the average at this point over the past decade. Hospitalization rates for children 0-4 years old are the highest at this point since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

Rates are also unusually high for adults aged 18-49. CDC experts say this could signal a “tripledemic” winter of flu, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and COVID converging to overwhelm hospitals.

Age Group Current Flu Hospitalization Rate per 100k Average Rate per 100k
0-4 years 6.5 3.7
18-49 years 4.7 2.8
65+ years 13.1 8.3

Hospitalization rates as of 12/17/22 per CDC tracking

With RSV hospitalizations already straining pediatric units and COVID likewise elevated post-Thanksgiving, even a moderately severe flu season could overfill hospitals.

H3N2 Dominant Strain

Of particular concern this year is that influenza A H3N2 is the predominant circulating flu strain so far, accounting for about 75% of positive flu lab samples nationwide. H3N2 viruses notoriously cause more severe illness, particularly in the elderly.

The flu shot and antiviral medications like Tamiflu remain the best protections available. The quadrivalent vaccine does provide substantial protection against H3N2 and the other currently circulating strains.

However, national flu vaccination rates are significantly down this year compared to before the pandemic. Fewer than half of pregnant women and less than a third of children have received their flu shots. With unvaccinated people nine times more likely to be hospitalized or die from flu complications, the low vaccination rate compounds the risk this season.

Preventive Measures Still Key

Doctors advise people experiencing flu symptoms to stay home, get plenty of rest, and avoid contact with others as much as possible to limit the spread. They recommend calling rather than visiting the doctor’s office unless suffering from severe, persistent, or worsening symptoms.

For those still healthy, experts emphasize that getting vaccinated remains vitally important protection. They also advise frequently washing hands, avoiding those who are sick, and wearing a mask around vulnerable individuals.

While this flu season shows troubling signs so far, collective prevention efforts could still mitigate the damage. But individuals and institutions must act quickly and decisively in the critical weeks and months ahead.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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