Up to 7.3 Million Americans Sickened by Flu So Far, CDC Says

Megan Brooks

January 11, 2019

The influenza season continues to pick up speed, with millions of Americans seeking medical care for influenza this season, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today.

From October 1, 2018, to January 5, 2019, 6.2 to 7.3 million people became sick with flu, 2.9 to 3.5 million people visited physicians because of flu, and 69,300 to 83,500 people were hospitalized because of flu, the agency said.

This influenza season marks the first time that the CDC is reporting in-season estimates of flu burden in the United States. These in-season estimates will be updated over the course of the flu season.

"Each year seasonal flu places a significant burden on the health of people in the United States. These new in-season estimates fill out the picture of the burden of flu in the United States," the agency said in a statement.

The last flu season (2017-2018) was one of the worst in nearly a decade; more than 900,000 people were hospitalized, and more than 80,000 deaths occurred.

The CDC continues to recommend flu vaccination as the best way to reduce the risk for flu and its potentially serious complications, including death in children. They also advise people who are severely ill with influenza and those at high risk for serious flu complications to see a healthcare provider early in their illness for possible treatment with an antiviral drug.

The US Food and Drug Administration recently approved baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza, Genentech) for those aged 12 years or older who have flu symptoms that have lasted no more than 48 hours. Baloxavir is a single-dose oral medication that should be taken within 48 hours of symptom onset to be most effective.

But the drug may be hard to come by, given the volume of telephone calls to major drug chains in six locations last week, according to a report by WebMD Health News. Of pharmacies in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Kankakee, Illinois, only one – in Minneapolis – had baloxavir in stock. All of the pharmacies offered to order it; the amount of time needed to restock the drug varied.

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