Atlanta, GA—It’s official. The last influenza season was one of the worst in recent memory, with the CDC classifying it as the first since 2003 to be of high severity across all age groups.

The 2017–2018 influenza season also had elevated levels of outpatient-clinic and emergency-department visits for influenza-like illness (ILI), high influenza-related hospitalization rates, and elevated and geographically widespread influenza activity for an extended period, according to the CDC.

One factor that made the flu season so difficult was how long it lasted, according to the report. During the last season, ILI began to increase in November, reaching an extended period of high activity during January and February nationally, and remained elevated through the end of March. In fact, ILI peaked at 7.5%, the highest percentage since the 2009 flu pandemic, which reached 7.7%.

Because symptoms suggestive of influenza were at or above the national baseline for 19 weeks, the 2017–2018 season became one of the longest in recent years.

Worst of all, flu deaths were up in children and appeared to be so in adults. The CDC noted that, as of the end of August, 180 pediatric deaths had been reported during the 2017–2018 season, which exceeds the previously highest number of flu-associated deaths in children during a regular flu season—171 during the 2012–2013 season. Of special interest to pharmacists and others who provide immunization, most—about 80%—of the deaths occurred in children who had not received a flu vaccination this season.

Flu deaths in adults are not nationally notifiable, but, using National Center for Health Statistics Mortality Reporting System, the CDC said the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) was at or above the epidemic threshold for 16 consecutive weeks.

A spokesperson for the CDC told media outlets that an estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter.

Hospitalization rates, meanwhile, were the highest ever recorded in the CDC’s surveillance system, breaking the previously recorded high during 2014–2015, when an estimated 710,000 flu hospitalizations occurred. Most hospitalizations—58%—were in patients aged 65 years and older.

The overall effectiveness of the 2017–2018 flu vaccine against both influenza A and B viruses was estimated to be 40%.

“While flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, flu vaccination is the best way to prevent flu and its potentially serious complications and prevents millions of flu illnesses and related doctors’ visits and tens of thousands of hospitalizations,” public health officials emphasize. “For example, during the 2016–2017 influenza season, CDC estimates that flu vaccine prevented an estimated 5.3 million illnesses, 2.6 million medical visits, and 85,000 hospitalizations associated with influenza. Similar estimates for 2017–2018 will be released in Fall 2018. Influenza vaccination also has been shown to reduce the risk of flu death in children.”

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