(UNDATED) – There’s another virus that has infected 15 million Americans across the country and killed more than 8,200 people this season. It’s not coronavirus – it’s influenza.
The 2019-2020 flu season is projected to be one of the worst in a decade, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. At least 140,000 people have been hospitalized with complications from the flu, and that number is predicted to climb as flu activity swirls.
The Centers for Disease Control predicts at least 12,000 people will die from the flu in the US every year. In the 2017-2018 flu season, as many as 61,000 people died, and 45 million were sickened.
In the 2019-2020 season so far, 15 million people in the US have gotten the flu and 8,200 people have died from it, including at least 54 children. Flu activity has been elevated for 11 weeks straight, the CDC reported, and will likely continue for the next several weeks.
The flu can be fatal
Health officials say the commonness of the flu often underplays its severity, but people should take it seriously.
The flu becomes dangerous when secondary infections emerge, the result of an already weakened immune system. Bacterial and viral infections compound the flu’s symptoms. People with chronic illnesses are also at a heightened risk for flu complications.
Those complications include pneumonia, inflammation in the heart and brain and organ failure — which, in some cases, can be fatal.
The virus is always changing
Influenza is tricky because the virus changes every year. Sometimes, the dominant strain in a flu season will be more virulent than in previous years, which can impact the number of people infected and the severity of their symptoms.
Experts say to get your flu shot
To avoid complications from the flu, health officials recommend getting vaccinated.
The CDC reported at least 173 million flu vaccine doses have been administered this flu season so far — that’s about 4 million more doses than the manufacturers who make the vaccines projected to provide this season.
Still, there are some who decide skipping the vaccine is worth the risk. A 2017 study found that people decline the flu vaccine because they don’t think it’s effective or they’re worried it’s unsafe, even though CDC research shows the vaccine effectively reduces the risk of flu in up to 60% of the population.