Last week brought a dramatic uptick in pediatric flu deaths, with at least 22 more children dying from the virus between Feb. 4 and Feb. 10, according to the CDC.
That makes the week the deadliest yet for children this flu season, bringing the total number of pediatric deaths up to 84. Many of those children were otherwise healthy, according to the CDC.
The somber statistic fulfills predictions from CDC Acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat, who said on a call with reporters last week that record-breaking hospitalization rates at the time were likely an indicator of high death rates to come. “The people who are likely to die may already be in the hospital,” Schuchat said on the call.
The CDC’s latest report did show, however, that about as many people saw doctors for flu-related symptoms last week as the week before, suggesting that this year’s brutal flu season may be starting to wane — or at least level off. Nonetheless, the flu is still causing elevated levels of illness and hospitalization in states across the country, and may continue to do so for weeks to come.
CDC officials have attributed this year’s serious influenza epidemic to the prevalence of H3N2, a viral strain that’s particularly severe and resistant to vaccination. In a report released Thursday, the agency estimated that flu shots were only effective against H3N2 a quarter of the time this season, and only 36% effective overall.
Still, unvaccinated people are urged to get the shot, as it’s more effective against non-H3N2 strains, which are beginning to circulate more widely at this point in the season. The vaccine may also reduce the severity of symptoms in those who do get sick. Children, especially, should get vaccinated, as the CDC estimates that the shot is up to 59% effective against H3N2 among kids between six months and eight years old.