Record High Flu Hospitalization Rates for Young Kids, Young Adults

Troy Brown, RN

March 19, 2020

COVID-19 may be the dominant public health concern at present, but the flu is still a dire threat. Influenza-related hospitalization rates are the highest on record for children younger than 5 years and adults aged 18 to 49 years, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These rates exceed even those seen during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Hospitalization rates for children aged 5 to 17 years "are higher than any recent regular season but remain lower than rates experienced by this age group during the pandemic," the CDC explains.

Other than those two groups, though, influenza-related hospitalization rates remain moderate compared with those seen at this point during recent seasons.

Although mortality from pneumonia and influenza has been low overall, 144 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported this season — higher than at this time during every season since the beginning of pediatric death reporting in 2004–2005, with the exception of the 2009 pandemic. Eight pediatric deaths were reported during the week ending March 7 (week 10), according to the most recent data released by the CDC.

The percentage of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness activity rose slightly to 5.2%, up from 5.1% last week. This is higher than the national baseline of 2.4%.

The percentage of respiratory specimens that tested positive in clinical laboratories remains elevated but fell for the fourth consecutive week during week 10; however, influenza-like illness activity rose slightly.

"The largest increases in ILI [influenza-like illness] activity occurred in areas of the country where COVID-19 is most prevalent. More people may be seeking care for respiratory illness than usual at this time," the CDC explains in the report.

Influenza activity was widespread in Puerto Rico and 48 states and was high in New York City, Puerto Rico, and 41 states.

The most commonly reported influenza viruses this season are now influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses — a change from earlier in the season, when influenza B/Victoria viruses were predominant nationally.

The CDC estimates that at least 36 million illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths have occurred as a result of influenza this season.

The CDC continues to emphasize the importance of antiviral medications and influenza vaccination and says that more than 99% of influenza viruses tested during this season are susceptible to the recommended US Food and Drug Administration–approved influenza antiviral medications.

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