Deadly Flu Epidemic Continues To Hit Seniors Hardest

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More Americans are dying from flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday in its weekly update on influenza activity.

During the week of Jan. 13-19, 9.8 percent of all deaths were tied to influenza and pneumonia, keeping the death toll above the CDC's epidemic threshold definition of 7.2 percent. That's up from the previous week's report, which showed 8.2 percent of all deaths may be flu-related.

The CDC does not track the total number of adult deaths, however the agency reports eight more children died of influenza last week, raising the total to 37 deaths.

The latest report also shows widespread flu activity is being reported in 47 states -- down from 48 last week -- with 26 states and New York City reporting high flu activity -- down from 30 states from last week's report. All 50 states are now reporting some flu activity, with Tennessee and Hawaii the latest states to report flu activity.

The flu epidemic appears to be leveling off nationally, according to the CDC, but some parts of the country are continuing to show increases. Increases in activity have been reported in the Southwest and Northwest, but flu appears to be decreasing in the South, Southeast, Midwest and New England.

Flu-related hospitalizations, however, continue to rise and similar to last week, seniors are being hit the hardest.

More than 22 out of 100,000 Americans are being hospitalized due to flu, up from 19 per 100,000 reported last week. Of all these hospitalizations, more than 50 percent are among adults ages 65 and older.

The predominant flu strain this year, H3N2, tends to be more severe for the elderly, the CDC says.

Last week during a conference call, CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden explained that flu-related statistics come in waves, so increasing rates of hospitalizations will likely be followed by increases in flu-related deaths, which will probably continue for several more weeks.

The most common underlying medical conditions reported in hospitalized adults were heart disease, obesity, lung disease (excluding asthma), and metabolic syndromes such as a diabetes.

As of Jan. 18, 133.5 million doses of flu vaccine had been distributed throughout the U.S. for this flu season. Last Friday at a press conference, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said a total of 145 million flu vaccines will be distributed this year, after raising the initial lot last week by 10 million more vaccines.

People can visit the flu vaccine finder to find available doses in their areas.

The CDC says this year's flu vaccine -- which the agency still says is the best way to protect yourself against flu -- is 62 percent effective. That means people who get the shot are 62 percent less likely to have to go to a doctor or hospital for flu treatment.

Because the vaccine does not guarantee protection, early treatment with an antiviral such as Tamiflu and Relenza is important, according to CDC. When given promptly within 48 hours of disease onset, the drugs can reduce symptom severity and duration of illness, and reduce the risk for hospitalization and death.

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