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The Centers for Disease Control issued a health advisory last week warning that cases of the seasonal flu are low but starting to rise, a sign that "could mark the beginning of the 2021-2022 influenza season."
After more than two months of nonexistent or minimal flu activity, the number of positive tests have started to increase, with 415 cases in the week ending on Nov. 20. Though that is just a 1% positivity rate nationwide, the CDC wants physicians to prepare for a potential influx of patients, particularly with COVID-19 cases also on the rise in the U.S.
The majority of cases — nearly 90% — are in kids and young adults aged 5 to 24, the CDC reported. The report comes after the University of Michigan dealt with a massive flu outbreak with more than 520 cases, prompting the CDC to send a team of investigators to the Ann Arbor campus.
The CDC said in their health advisory that the majority of cases are of the influenza A(H3N2) strain, making it of more concern because it can "evolve more rapidly to escape human immunity." It was also the dominant strain during the deadly 2017-2018 flu season, when an estimated 80,000 Americans died.
"In the past, influenza A(H3N2) virus-predominant seasons were associated with more hospitalizations and deaths in persons aged 65 years and older than other age groups than other influenza viruses," the CDC said.
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The CDC urged everyone aged 6 months and up to get the flu vaccine this year, emphasizing the need for children to get vaccinated with most of the cases so far affecting that demographic. So far, they said, fewer Americans have received their flu vaccine compared to last year. The CDC said that "there is still time this season," and people can get the flu vaccine at the same time as their COVID-19 vaccine or booster.
While last year's flu season was almost non-existent, it could pick up this year and cause a "twindemic" with COVID-19 still spreading. The best protections against the flu and COVID-19 are similar — getting vaccinated, washing hands frequently, avoiding large crowds and wearing a mask indoors.