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Flu spreads, kills 20 children

Influenza continued its spread across the country last week, and it’s now killed 20 children, federal health officials reported Friday.

Deaths from flu-like illness and pneumonia are now at epidemic levels — nothing unusual for mid-January, but a reminder that while flu is a regular visitor, it’s also a killer. Flu kills people every year — anywhere between 3,000 and 49,000 a year, depending on the season. At the same time last year, flu had already killed 29 children. 

Flu’s now widespread in 40 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. “The highest hospitalization rate is among adults aged 65 years or older, followed by those in age groups 0-4 years and 50-64 years,” the CDC reports in its weekly statistic on flu. “However, those aged 18-64 years still account for 61 percent of reported hospitalized cases.”

This might be because the H1N1 strain is the flu type making most people sick this year. This particular strain of H1N1 first popped up in 2009, causing the swine flu pandemic. It hasn’t dominated the circulating mix of flu strains since, so CDC is watching to see if younger adults may be more susceptible. These are the people least likely to have been vaccinated.

CDC says 25 percent of people who show up at the hospital sick and who are tested are positive for influenza. This means 75 percent of people with flu-like symptoms probably had something else. There are antiviral drugs to fight flu if people get treated quickly, and every year tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people are sick enough to be hospitalized.

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