What to Know
- The girl’s death is the Garden State’s first flu-related death this season; she died in December and had not been vaccinated, officials said
- Health officials did not release the name of the girl or where in New Jersey she lived; NJ.com says she's from Central Jersey
- New Jersey has had more than 4,000 reported cases of the virus so far this season
A 4-year-old girl from New Jersey has died from the flu, health officials say.
The girl’s death is the Garden State’s first flu-related death this season. Health officials did not release the name of the girl or where in New Jersey she lived. NJ.com reports she lived in Central Jersey.
Health officials said the girl died in December and that she was not vaccinated. New Jersey has had more than 4,000 reported cases of the virus so far this season. The most cases have been reported in Bergen County, NJ.com reports.
Much of the rest of the nation is grappling with a spike in flu deaths as well.
Flu is widespread in every state except Hawaii, and 39 states reported high flu traffic for doctors a week and a half ago -- one in 15 doctor visits for flu-related symptoms -- up from 32 from the week prior. That's the highest level since the swine flu pandemic in 2009. The government doesn't track every flu case but comes up with estimates; one measure is how many people seek medical care for fever, cough, aches and other flu symptoms. And the numbers are concerning.
In New York, Sen. Charles Schumer recently called on federal health officials to dispatch a flu surveillance team to New York as the number of cases increases.
At this rate, by the end of the season somewhere around 34 million Americans will have gotten sick from the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
Some good news: Hospital stays and deaths from the flu among the elderly so far haven't been as high as in some other recent flu seasons. However, hospitalization rates for people 50 to 64 — baby boomers, mostly — has been unusually high, CDC officials said in the report, which covers the week ending Jan. 20.
This year's flu shot targets the strains that are making Americans sick, mostly the H3N2 flu virus. But exactly how well it is working won't be known until next month. It's the same main bug from last winter, when the flu season wasn't so bad. It's not clear why this season — with the same bug — is worse, some experts said.
"That's the kicker. This virus really doesn't look that different from what we saw last year," said Richard Webby, a flu researcher at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.
It may be that many of the people getting sick this year managed to avoid infection last year. Or there may be some change in the virus that hasn't been detected yet, said the CDC's Dr. Dan Jernigan, in a call with reporters last week.
Based on patterns from past seasons, it's likely the flu season will start to wane soon, experts say. There are some places, like California, where the season already seems to be easing, CDC officials said.
"If I was a betting man, I'd put money on it going down," Webby said. "But I've lost money on bets before."
The season usually peaks in February, but this season started early and took off in December.