44 states, NYC, Puerto Rico report high flu activity, CDC says

Feb. 14 (UPI) — Coronavirus stokes more fear, but the flu continues to spread in the United States.

In its weekly FluView report, issued Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that while deaths remain below its epidemic threshold, most of the 50 states and Puerto Rico are reporting “high” activity — meaning that elevated numbers of people are seeking care for the virus and its symptoms.

CDC estimates that at least 26 million Americans have been sickened by the flu, with roughly 4 million new cases in the past week alone.

The agency attributes approximately 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths — including 92 children, 14 more than the previous week — to the virus to date this winter.

In all, pneumonia and influenza accounted for 6.8 percent of all deaths across the country during the most recent assessment period, which ended February 8. The agency’s epidemic threshold is 7.3 percent.

However, New York City and Puerto Rico, as well as 44 states, all reported high flu activity during the week ending last Saturday. Influenza-like illness made up 6.8 percent of all visits to healthcare providers across the country, up from 6.6 percent the previous week, the agency said.

The states reporting high flu activity are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

More than half of the laboratory-confirmed flu cases this year have involved the less virulent influenza B type. However, an increasing number of cases have been identified as influenza A, which experts say is more likely to cause an epidemic.

Still, the vast majority of flu specimens tested are susceptible to approved antiviral medications and can be treated effectively.

Meanwhile, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Friday at a press briefing that public health labs working on flu testing will also begin checking samples for the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

The new testing will begin immediately at five facilities that routinely participate in the agency’s influenza surveillance program and test blood and fluid samples collected from suspected flu cases in their local areas.

The five labs participating in the testing are in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle, though other facilities may be added in the future, Messonnier said.