Nov. 14, 2023 – In what looks like a return to a typical pre-pandemic flu season, cases nationwide continue to slowly climb this fall, national infectious disease expert and pharmacy data shows.
Flu is still nothing to mess with, and officials are promoting the flu activity results as a reminder for people to get their flu shots as soon as possible – before an expected peak early next year.
Seasonal influenza activity is increasing in most parts of the country, primarily in the South Central, Southeast, and West Coast regions, the CDC said in updated numbers released Monday. In the prior week, the number of lab tests positive for the flu was up 3%, and the number of outpatient visits for respiratory illness was up 2.9%.
Numbers from a national pharmacy chain shows the same overall slow increase in cases and the highest flu activity across the southern United States. As of Nov. 4, 2023, Puerto Rico, Mississippi, and Louisiana had the most flu activity, the 2023-2024 Walgreens Flu Index shows.
“At this time, it is very low activity. There’s not much of a flu season yet,” said Pedro Piedra, MD, a professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
The major virus circulating now is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and not influenza. “But that doesn’t mean that the flu is not going to come. Viruses come in waves,” Piedra said. “Until then, this is the best time to be vaccinated and to be getting prepared for the flu season.”
The number of weekly flu hospital admissions is also increasing, with 1,962 people hospitalized in the past week of CDC surveillance. Admissions are up slightly, compared to the week before, with seniors and children younger than 4 accounting for the most cases. The agency reports that one child has died from the flu so far this season.
“While it’s early days and flu season is always unpredictable, our historical data suggest this could be a return to a typical two-wave flu season, where activity starts to peak in December and reaches its highest point in February,” Kevin Ban, MD, Walgreens’ chief medical officer, said in a statement.
Index flu activity is based on changes in the number of antiviral medications used to treat influenza every week across Walgreens and Duane Reade drugstore locations in the U.S. Data is provided by state and region as well.
“The index is not intended to illustrate flu severity, but rather, based on this methodology, to show which populations are experiencing the highest incidence of influenza within the United States and Puerto Rico each week,” a company release said.
Piedra cautioned that other infections could cause people to purchase antiviral medications. Laboratory-confirmed flu infection data, like numbers provided by the CDC, would be more precise, he said.