CDC: Flu at epidemic level; 15 children dead this season – CNN

(CNN) — The flu has already become an epidemic in the United States this year, and is blamed for more deaths than it was at this time last year — including 15 children.

The number is increasing. The latest figures, released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cover the week ending December 20. Flu is already suspected in some other deaths, including that of a four-year-old boy in Port Isabel, Texas, CNN affiliate KGNS reports.

While the names of the children have not been released, a family in Minnesota has said their 17-year-old daughter died in early December after having the flu for about a week. A fundraising page is collecting donations for the heartbroken family of Shannon Zwanziger.

Shannon Zwanziger had the flu for a week when she died, her family says.

The CDC said it can only confirm that there were two “confirmed reports of flu-pediatric deaths in Minnesota this season.”

While alarming, the latest statistics don’t indicate that the outbreak this year will be, overall, worse than in previous years, the CDC told CNN Wednesday. It’s too early to know.

Flu activity is high in nearly half the country — 22 states and Puerto Rico, according to a map released by the CDC.

The “epidemic threshold” is crossed to some extent every year, a CDC chart shows.

In the week ending December 20, nearly 7% of deaths were blamed on pneumonia and flu. That’s higher than it was at the same time last year, but later on in the season the percentage of deaths blamed on the flu generally goes higher.

The number of children killed by the flu spiked tremendously in 2013. Thirty-seven deaths were blamed on the flu in the 2011 to 2012 season; the next season, 2012-2013, there were 171 deaths, the CDC says. In the 2013 to 2014 season, the figure was 109.

Totals are known for children but not adults because child deaths must be reported to the CDC; there’s no similar requirement for adult deaths.

Older people are generally those worst affected. Flu-related hospitalizations among people 65 years and older has reached 38.3 per 100,000 people, the highest rate of any age group, the CDC says.

It’s unknown how many people who have died from the flu this year were vaccinated.

But as CNN has reported, it’s an unusually bad year for the vaccine. Just over half the strains tested were not covered by the vaccine. The biggest reason is a mutated strain that was not being spread at the time the vaccine was designed.

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Getting vaccinated is still very important, health officials say.

It’s “the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and spread it to others” and “may make your illness milder if you do get sick,” according to the CDC.

Flu activity generally peaks in the United States between December and February, and can persist as late as May.

CNN’s Eve Bower contributed to this report.


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