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Flu season hitting baby boomers particularly hard, CDC says

Deadly flu outbreak
Deadly flu outbreak 02:13

The United States is currently being ravaged by a particularly nasty flu season, and health officials say we may not have seen the worst of it yet. The flu is currently widespread in 49 states and doctors across the country continue to see more cases, more hospitalizations, and more deaths from influenza infections.

"Flu is still happening all over the United States," Dr. Dan Jernigan, Director of the Influenza Division at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, CDC, said in a news briefing.

According to the CDC's weekly Fu View report, 6.6 percent of patients who visited the doctor last week across the U.S. had flu-like symptoms.

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.

However, while that's still true this flu season, another age group is also being hit particularly hard: baby boomers.

The hospitalization rate for flu in adults aged 50 to 64 is 44.2 per 100,000 population, second only to adults over the age of 65.

"Baby boomers have higher rates than their grandchildren right now," Jernigan said.

This is a bit of an anomaly, he said, since in years past, children are usually the second hardest hit group. The current rate of hospitalizations for children aged 4 years and under is 27.0 per 100,000.

Jernigan said the reasons why baby boomers are being hit harder this year are complex. They may have to do with how flu strains have evolved over time from when they were children and how that affects immunity. Notably, it's also an age group "where there's a lot of people and would benefit from having higher rates of vaccination," he said.

Last week also brought seven more pediatric deaths from flu, bringing the total to 37 so far this flu season, which began in October. Several high-profile pediatric deaths have made headlines in recent weeks, including 12-year-old Dylan Winnick, who died Tuesday. His stepfather says the family is stunned by how quickly the virus took him. 

"No indications. No warnings. Just common cold. That's what's so scary about it," Mike Medwin said. 

The best protection against the flu -- and complications from the infection -- is getting vaccinated.

The CDC recommends that 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 and 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.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
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