Mar 22nd, 2018 | By: CBS News, cbsnews.com
The U.S. is being hit with one of the worst flu seasons in years, with 45 statesreporting widespread illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — four times as many as this time last year. Experts warn that young children are particularly vulnerable.
Shareeka Smith’s 8-month-old son, Kingston, is a patient at Texans Children’s Hospital, fighting the flu.
“About four days ago he started breathing hard, vomiting, having fever,” she told CBS affiliate KHOU.
“The flu is very dangerous. It’s not your regular virus that gives you a couple days of runny nose,” said Dr. Claire Bocchini, an infectious disease specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital.
CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula reports that the strain of flu that’s spreading this season, H3N2, tends to hit younger and older people harder than others.
“This is a bad bug,” said Dr. Daniel Jernigan, director of the CDC’s Influenza Division. “In years when there is H3N2, we do see that there are more deaths.”
Thirteen children across the U.S. have already died of the flu this season.
According to the CDC, children younger than 5 are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications — and babies under the age of 2, even more so.
“Their lungs, their immune systems are still developing, especially the younger ones, and so they have a lot more complications,” Bocchini explained.
The CDC estimates that since 2010, flu-related hospitalizations among children younger than 5 ranged from 7,000 to 26,000 a year in the U.S. Since the 2004-2005 flu season, between 37 and 171 children have died of the flu each year.
Adults age 65 and over are also at higher risk.
To help reduce the risk of catching or spreading the flu, health officials are encouraging frequent hand-washing throughout the day.
“Before snack time, before meal times, before and after potty,” Rachel Sherman, a teacher at the Jewish Council for Youth Services Early Childcare Center, told CBS Chicago.
“We were hit last month quite badly actually,” she continued. “[The flu] took out a few of our classes and even teachers.”
CBS Chicago reports that a 10-year-old boy in the area died of the flu on New Year’s Eve after the virus attacked his heart.
“We’ve seen 675 cases of the flu over the last two weeks,” Dr. Stephen Epner of Physicians Immediate Care told the station. At all 31 Physicians Immediate Care locations, doctors are seeing a 20 percent spike in patients.
“It seems like it’s about 30 to 50 percent worse than the previous 2 to 3 years,” Epner said.
Across the country, it’s a similar situation. Making matters worse, there’s an ongoing shortage of IV bags – produced in factories in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico – which are needed to deliver medicine and treat dehydrated patients at hospitals.