Flu is widespread and “very active” across the U.S. and in Augusta, officials said Friday.
But it may be peaking if it follows the patterns of previous recent severe flu seasons when this particular flu strain dominated. The heavy flu season is being complicated by a shortage of IV fluids, Augusta hospitals said.
For the first time in recent memory, every single state in the continental U.S. is at widespread flu status, which means multiple jurisdictions within the state are seeing flu, said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the Influenza Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is not a measure of activity, however, and while 26 states like Georgia are at a high level of influenza-like activity, others like Florida are still at the minimal level.
Still, it is “a very active flu season” that appears to be dominated by the strain influenza A H3N2, said CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald. For the latest FluView report on Friday that covered the week that ended Jan. 6, the level of people reporting influenza-like illness remained at 5.8 percent, which was not quite at the 6 percent level reported in the flu season of 2014-2015. That was the last really severe flu season and was also an H3N2-dominated flu season, Jernigan said. But the rate of hospitalizations nearly doubled from 13.7 per 100,000 the previous week to 22.7 per 100,000, he said.
“There is lots of flu in lots of places,” Jernigan said. “The season has started early and it is probably peaking right about now.”
That was the pattern during the last heavy H3N2 years, which saw a rapid drop-off in the following weeks, which is what Jernigan said he expects.
“I’m hoping they’re right,” said Kevin Dellsperger, chief medical officer for AU Medical Center, whose hospital and especially the Intensive Care Units are filled with patients with respiratory disease that probably started as flu. University Hospital had 18 patients with flu hospitalized Friday, “which is very high,” spokeswoman Rebecca Sylvester said.
Dellsperger said he couldn’t say how many flu cases he had, but 50-60 percent of admissions were for respiratory complaints and likely flu-related. This particular flu strain is known to be harder on the elderly and very young and that is reflected in the national numbers, although those ages 50-64 also saw a spike in hospitalizations, Jernigan said. At AUMC, “we’ve seen it across the board,” Dellsperger said. “We’ve had people in their 20s needing a ventilator.”
Both Augusta hospitals are struggling with getting their patients IV fluids, due to a national shortage caused in part because the manufacturers for much of it are on the island of Puerto Rico, which is still devastated three months after Hurricane Maria, with many areas still without power. Dellsperger said he was told by one of his pharmacists that one plant there had regained power and was able to work one shift a day.
“We’re starting to see a trickle of product out of Puerto Rico but it’s certainly not enough for the normal volume,” let alone a heavy flu season, he said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.