WASHINGTON – The United States on Thursday was in the grip of a deadly influenza outbreak that has hit harder and earlier than in previous years, claiming the lives of at least 18 children.
“It looks like the worst year we’ve had since 2003-2004,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci said this year’s influenza strain, which has sickened thousands across the country, is particularly severe: “The type of flu is one that generally is more serious. It’s the H3N2 variety, which is historically more serious than we see with other types of virus.”
The epidemic, which broke out in early December, has caused some 2,200 hospitalizations across the United States, federal health officials said. Boston has been particularly hard hit, with officials declaring a public health emergency. City officials said there have so far been about 700 confirmed cases of the flu — almost 10 times the number compared to this time last year.
Joe Bresee, chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s influenza division, said officials cannot predict how much worse this year’s outbreak will get.
Dozens of states have seen a sharp spike in emergency room visits from patients reporting flulike symptoms. In Allentown, Pennsylvania, one hospital had to erect a large outdoor tent to admit all the flu sufferers.
The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months get vaccinated, particularly those at risk of serious complications, such as babies and the elderly.
In addition to flu inoculations, health officials recommend such basic prophylactic procedures as frequent hand washing.