There were 16 flu-related deaths reported this week by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday in the weekly flu report. This brings the total number of pediatric flu-related deaths to 53 for the season which began in October.
According to the report, influenza activity is now widespread in 48 states and Puerto Rico, down from 49 states during the previous two weeks. Oregon joined Hawaii in lower activity levels for the week ending January 27.
"We have not hit our peak yet, unfortunately," said Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the CDC. "It is not going down yet. Really, the bottom line is there is still likely many more weeks to go."
Caused by viruses, flu is a contagious, respiratory illness with mild to severe symptoms that can sometimes lead to death.
The CDC also recorded an uptick in patients who visited health care providers complaining of influenza-like illness across the nation, a rise to 7.1% for the week ending January 27 over 6.5%, the newly revised estimated from the previous week.
Worst in years
This year's flu season is rivaling the worst in recent years, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the United States' National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Overall, the data showed 17,024 new laboratory-confirmed cases of illness during the week ending January 27, bringing the season total to 126,117. These numbers do not include all the people who have had the flu, as many do not see a doctor when sick.
Nordlund said there have been reports of spot shortages of the generic version of Tamiflu medicine to treat the flu. This is "a result of flu hitting everywhere all at once," she said.
US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb also said in statement Thursday that some antivirals as well as flu tests are in short supply. "However, at this time, there is no nationwide shortage of these products," said Gottlieb.
Flu vaccines also have been reported in short supply, but they are still available, said Gottlieb. "I strongly encourage anyone who hasn't had a flu shot to get one and anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms to promptly consult with their health care provider about appropriate treatment options."
Circulating virus strains
Circulating virus strains included both B strains (Yamagata and Victoria), H1N1 and H3N2, according to the CDC. "It's an H3N2 year," said Fauci.
Historically, H3N2 strains have been "bad actors," he said, known to cause more complications, hospitalizations and more deaths.
The hospitalization rate for 2018's fourth week is about 51 people per 100,000, which is higher than during the fourth week of the 2014-15 season, which recorded about 43 people hospitalized per 100,000. The 2014-15 flu season was considered "moderately severe" by the CDC and has been used as a comparison to the current season.
The 2017-18 flu season "unquestionably falls into the bucket of a severe year," said Fauci.
"This year, 2017-18, for a strikingly long part of the season, completely parallels the 2014-15 year," he said. "Except that last week or the week before, 2014-15 started to plateau and turn around -- but 2017-18 continued to go up."
"We very well may start to see it peak and turn around," said Fauci of the current flu season. "I hope it does, because if it doesn't it will be an even worse year than we're thinking."