The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the H1N1 influenza virus is killing people at epidemic levels in the United States.
In order to be ruled an epidemic, an illness must represent 7.3% of all fatalities in an area. Since mid-January, reporting cities show influenza is responsible for 8.4% of deaths.
While the flu typically hits elderly residents particularly hard, 60% of hospitalized influenza patients this flu season have been between ages 18-64.
“These severe flu outcomes are a reminder that flu can be a very serious disease for anyone, including young, previously healthy adults,” CDC spokesman Jason McDonald said.
The CDC reports that the H1N1 virus – also called swine flu -- is proving particularly dangerous in North Carolina and California. There have been 243 deaths in California of residents 65 and younger so far this flu season. 41 more cases were reported but not confirmed.
In North Carolina, the state has seen 64 influenza deaths so far. Last year, the state’s influenza death toll for the entire year was 59. In 2012, North Carolina had just nine confirmed influenza deaths. The increase in deaths has left Duke University infectious disease researcher Jelena Catania grasping for answers.
“We don’t know why, but it is worrisome,” Catania said. She notes that this year’s flu shot included H1N1, so many – if not most – people contracting the strand may not have gotten the shot.
“It’s never perfect,” she said. “But for some people, getting the vaccine is a matter of life and death.”
The CDC estimates the flu shot’s efficacy rate is 50-70%.
Elsewhere in the world, the World Health Organization is tracking new influenza strands. In China, a new strain titled H7N9 has infected 300 people. Thus far, the virus has killed 25% of all people who contract it. A brand new bird flu strain titled H10N8 killed a 73-year-old woman in China as well. Neither of the new influenza strands have been shown to spread between humans at this time. Their potential for fatalities serves as a sobering reminder of the influenza virus’s power.
The new strands led World Health Organization researchers to say “the pandemic potential of this novel virus should not be underestimated.”