NEW YORK — Flu season in the United States is getting worse and worse.
Health officials said Friday that 7.5% of outpatient visits last week were due to flu-like illnesses. This is as high as the peak of the 2017-18 flu season and higher than any season since.
The annual winter flu season doesn’t usually start until December or January, but it does start early and is already complicated by the simultaneous spread of other viruses.
The measurement of doctor’s office visits is based on reports of symptoms such as coughs and sore throats, not on laboratory-confirmed diagnoses. So it can include other respiratory diseases.
That makes it difficult to compare with flu seasons from before the COVID-19 pandemic. Other years don’t have this year either unusually strong RSV waveor respiratory syncytial virus, a common cause of cold-like symptoms that can be severe for infants and the elderly.
Meanwhile, 44 states reported high or very high flu activity last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
That may not be good for the foreseeable future. Experts say it’s likely the respiratory virus will spread more during Thanksgiving gatherings and at crowded airports.
The predominant influenza strain by far is the one commonly associated with higher rates of hospitalization and death, especially in people 65 years of age and older.
The CDC estimates there have been at least 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 flu deaths this season. The deaths include at least 14 children.
Nearly all Americans 6 months of age and older are advised to get a flu shot.