In a sign that the flu is becoming more virulent, 16 children across the country have died in the latest reported week because of the virus — more than twice the number of children who died in the previous week, health officials said Friday.
The latest figures bring the national total of pediatric deaths to 53 for the week that ended Jan. 27, up from 37 the week before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly report. In the week ended Jan. 20, seven children died from the flu.
“This week, we have seen increased [influenza-like illness] activity, more hospitalizations and more flu-associated deaths in children and adults,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, told journalists on a conference call Friday.
Two of the new pediatric deaths happened in Florida, bringing the state total up to five, reported the Florida Department of Health. One of the deaths was of West Palm Beach seventh-grader Dylan Winnik, 12, who died on Jan. 23. His mother had initially thought he had a cold.
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The state health department said all five of the deaths were in unvaccinated children.
Health officials reported that flu activity is at higher levels than at the highest points in previous flu seasons. For the week ended Jan. 27, New York City, Washington, D.C,. and 42 states experienced high levels of flu activity, according to Friday’s CDC report. Florida was one of those states.
And more people are headed to doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, with 7.1 percent of all patient visits due to the flu, substantially above the baseline of 2.2 percent, the CDC said.
“So far this year the cumulative rate of hospitalization is the highest since we began tracking in this way [during the 2009-2010 season],” Schuchat said.
This year’s virus — known as H3N2 — is particularly difficult to combat with a vaccine, health experts say. The current crop of flu vaccines tend to be more effective against H1N1 viruses.
Nonetheless, the CDC is still urging people to get the flu vaccine, and to stay home from school or work to avoid transmitting the virus to others.
According to the CDC report, out of every 100,000 people in the general population, about 51 have been admitted into the hospital for the flu — surpassing the 2014-2015 season rate. During that flu season, 148 children died and 710,000 were hospitalized . Adults who were 65 and older had the most hospitalizations, followed by those ages 50 to 64, and children below the age of 5.