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2018 flu season appears to hit deadly peak

Deadly flu season
20 children dead as flu reaches epidemic proportions 02:29

This year's flu season has been dominated by a particularly nasty bug, and health officials say it has now reached almost every corner of the country. In a press conference on Friday morning, the CDC says flu season appears to be peaking.

"We saw that the season started earlier back in November and has had a really rapid rise and is probably peaking right about now," said Dr. Dan Jernigan, M.D., Captain of U.S. Public Health Service and Director of the Influenza Division at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "Flu is everywhere in the United States right now ... There's lots of flu in lots of places."

Flu is now widespread in every state except Hawaii. It has reached epidemic levels, which it does every year, Jernigan said.

But while experts say the flu season may have reached its peak, they warn it will take many more weeks for flu activity to truly slow down.

This year's flu season has been dominated by the H3N2 strain, which is linked to more severe illnesses especially among adults over the age of 65 and children younger than 5.

"This strain is associated with more cases and more hospitalizations and more deaths," Jernigan said.

This week's flu stats are particularly sobering when it comes to pediatric deaths. In the first week of 2018, seven more children died from the flu, bringing the total number to 20 so far for the season.

Deadly flu outbreak gravely serious for children 02:32

Hospitalizations are also on the rise, particularly among adults over the age of 50 and children under the age of 5. Some hospitals in California have been so overwhelmed that they had to send patients to other ERs.

Heartbreaking stories have been circulating in the media this week about children and young adults dying from the flu. In Ohio, Richard and Valerie Rieben are mourning the death of their 4-year-old son, Jonah, from Flu. According to CBS News' Dr. Jonathan LaPook, he had underlying health conditions.

"One of the most difficult things that i've ever had to do was to tell my other children on Saturday morning that their little brother wasn't coming home," said Valerie Rieben.

CBS Chicago reported on a 10-year-old boy in the area who died New Year's Eve after the flu virus attacked his heart. And the Washington Post shared the story of Kyler Baughman, a 21-year-old fitness buff and aspiring personal trainer from Pennsylvania who thought he could push through the illness but ended up dying when the flu progressed to organ failure and septic shock.

This all serves as a reminder, Jernigan says, that while most people recover from flu after a few days, it can also lead to severe illness and death in others.

The best protection against the flu is the flu vaccine. While reports earlier this season cautioned that the vaccine may only be 10 percent effective – as happened in Australia – Jernigan said the estimates for this year are likely in the 30 percent range.

Experts urge everyone 6 months of age and older get the flu shot, as it helps reduce the chance of illness from the flu and can also lessen the severity of the symptoms if you do get sick.

If you haven't gotten your flu shot yet, officials say it is not too late.

Other common-sense practices can help you avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
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