This year's flu season hit hard. There have been reports of severe respiratory illnesses among young and middle-aged adults, with a number of fatalities amongst the group that are usually considered “safe” from flu-related deaths. This year's strain is H1N1, the strain previously called the “swine flu” and it's attacking the demographic that has previously been considered low-risk for flu-related deaths. In the past, many have believed that unless you were pregnant, elderly, under the age of five, or sickly, you could go without the flu shot.
However, this couldn't be further from the truth, especially this year. State after state has seen young, otherwise healthy, Americans dying from the flu, and yet, many people still resist going in and getting a flu shot. One of the biggest misconceptions is that the flu “isn't that bad” and oftentimes, people mistake the flu for the common cold.
There are similarities, of course. Both colds and the flu come from respiratory tract infections in your nose, sinuses and throat. But the symptoms of influenza are much worse than that of a cold, and typically the flu lasts longer, too. In fact, flu symptoms can linger for up to 3 weeks, which is a long time when you're experiencing body aches, pains, weakness and fatigue. In 2012-2013, the CDC estimates that there were approximately 380,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations.
Some areas in the United States have been hit harder than others. Gallup conducted a survey to determine which states had the most cases of the flu, and these are the results. The flu tends to spread faster in these states and while many think cold weather and influenza go hand-in-hand, many of these states are actually known for being warm year round.
7 Oregon - 2.1%
As of mid-January, 11 people had already died from the flu in Portland, alone. Most of the deaths were patients over the age of 50, but at least one child in Oregon died early on in the flu season. It was a 5-year old boy from Eugene, Oregon who died after falling ill on Christmas day. These 11 patients all tested positive for the flu, but many others simply never get tested. This means that the actual death tally could well be higher.
By January 22nd, the Department of Health and Welfare stated that there had only been three influenza related deaths in Idaho this season. However, that number tripled in just two weeks making a total of nine by January 31st. When you look at hospitalizations, Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene said that they were filled nearly to capacity. The ICU was almost completely full, and regular hospital floors were at 90% in mid-January.
6 New Jersey - 2.2%
At the end of December, New Jersey hospitals saw a moderate level of flu-related activity. However, things quickly changed in January when the entire state was experiencing a high level of activity. In a map of the state, every single county in the state was colored “red,” signaling that no one in New Jersey was going to be able to escape the possibility of falling ill.
While the flu was rampaging through most of the country, Florida initially reported a mild level of activity. However, that ramped up as we got further into flu season. Dr. Nelly Durr Chambers, with the Florida Hospital Physician Group, explained it this way; “What I’ve seen in years prior is that the flu will hit November, December up north, and it will hit us January, February, March down here.” Obviously, Florida caught up and eventually surpassed most of the country in the rate of flu activity.
5 Arizona - 2.3%
The state of Arizona doesn't track the number of adults who die from the flu, but according to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the virus is not only killing the most susceptible victims. In fact, they've said that the majority of flu cases are in people aged 19 to 49. The aggressive flu strain took the life of a prominent Phoenix attorney, 38-year old Javier Sedillo - he's just one of many across the state and country who lost their lives to this aggressive strain of H1N1.
4 New Mexico - 2.3%
As with many other states, New Mexico is reporting higher than usual hospitalizations for those under the age of 65. Last year, for the week ending in January 11, there were 6.0 lab documented cases of the flu per 100,000 people aged 18-to-49-year-old adults. This year, for the same period, that number increased to 7.2 per 100,000.
3 Texas - 2.3%
Texas may have had a strange winter all the way around, and even got a little snow for the first time in a long time. But typically, the warm, Southern state is pretty immune to the effects of winter. Even so, it's apparently not immune to the flu virus. Tracie Burroughs, a Pearland High School teacher, died suddenly, only hours after she started feeling flu-like symptoms. So far, 13 children are said to have died from the flu in Texas and experts warn that we are still not out of the woods yet even with flu season appearing to be coming to an end.
2 New York - 2.5%
One thing to note about the flu deaths in New York is not the number of people who have died, but the ages of those who have. On average, Onondaga County sees about five deaths per year - 90% of those are victims aged 65 or older. That's not the case this year, though. In fact, all of the deaths in Central New York as of February were in middle-aged people, a demographic usually not at a high risk of death from the flu. In fact, last year, Onondaga reported no flu deaths in that age range at all. This strain of the flu appears to be hitting the younger and middle-aged groups harder than older people, and one reason might be that older people may have been exposed to a comparable strain sometime in the past, and have built up some sort of immunity. However, this is only one theory, and there are no firm answers on why this strain seems to be the most deadly to otherwise healthy groups of people.
California may have a temperate winter, especially compared to other parts of the country, but that doesn't make the state immune to the flu. Even as flu season starts to wind down, the death toll in California continues to rise. Currently, it's estimated that about 318 people under the age of 65 have already died from influenza in the state of California, six of them children. This number could still rise as there are at least 26 deaths currently under investigation. And it appears that the state capital, Sacramento, is a hotspot for the disease. As of the first week of March, California's death toll is three times what it was last year.
1 Nevada - 2.9%
Nevada is a very hot and dry state - which is not the kind of climate you'd associate with the flu. However, Nevada residents have reported a higher rate of flu sickness than any other state. Not only have there been more cases of the flu reported in Nevada than anywhere else; the state has also seen significantly more deaths from the flu than last year. In fact, the death count in January was already three times the number of victims last year. Dr. Joe Iser, Chief Medical Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, was recently interviewed on a local radio show, and he explained the range of deaths varied from the elderly to even the “younger folk”, showing that even the low-risk younger demographic aren't immune to the dangers of the flu.