Flu Now Widespread in 45 States, What to Know
By Julia Ries
- Flu is now widespread in 45 states according to the CDC.
- Northern and western states are now being hit hard.
- Currently the influenza B strain is appearing most often around the country.
Just as health officials predicted, flu activity picked up significantly over the holidays.
Forty-five states plus Puerto Rico are now seeing widespread activity, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported today — a big jump from what we saw before the holidays.
At the start of the season, the string of states between Texas and Georgia experienced the most severe flu activity. But now northern and western states are being hit just as hard.
Pennsylvania, for example, saw a 56 percent increase in flu activity during the stretch between Christmas and New Year's Eve.
Overall, there have been at least 6.4 million flu illnesses, 55,000 hospitalizations, and 2,900 flu-related deaths, according to the CDC's latest flu report.
There have also been 27 reported pediatric deaths — the majority of which were linked back to influenza B viruses.
"Since mid-December, influenza activity has really ramped up," said Marie-Louise Landry, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease expert and the director of the Yale Clinical Virology Laboratory. "All four influenza strains are circulating, but so far A/H1 and B/Victoria have been more common."
The Vaccine Isn’t Perfect, but It Helps
The flu vaccine is never perfect — flu strains mutate and change each and every year, so it's impossible for the vaccine to successfully target every flu variation.
Experts are also seeing more influenza B/Victoria cases than we typically do — a strain that's not comprehensively covered by this year's vaccine.
"While early in the season, all the circulating strains of influenza A/pdmH1 and influenza B/Yamagata tested so far have been similar to the strains in the vaccine, but 58 percent of influenza B/Victoria strains and only 34 percent of influenza A/H3 tested matched the vaccine strains," Dr. Landry told Healthline.
Health officials are still working on those estimates, too, so they'll likely change a bit as the season progresses.
"Ideally, this number should be as high as possible, but often with influenza the virus may genetically drift away from an exact match with the virus," said Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.
Because the vaccine seemed to miss the mark a bit with the most predominant strain (B/Victoria), the United States might see more people continue to come down with this type of flu.
That said, even if you do contract one of these strains, the vaccine will reduce the length and severity of your symptoms.
Certain Strains Are Worse in Certain Areas
All four strains (A, B, C, and D) are currently circulating, but different strains seem to be striking more in various parts of the country.
In general, B and A strains cause a similar illness: fatigue, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills, and fever.
A study from 2014 found that adults with influenza A or B had the same length hospital stays and comparable rates of death and intensive care admission.
However, B/Victoria — the predominant strain we're seeing in the U.S. — is thought to cause a more severe illness in children. In fact, a 2016 study found that influenza B was more likely to cause death in children ages 16 and younger.
"On a national level, influenza B is outnumbering influenza A which is unusual, but the predominant virus may vary with the region of the country, the age of the patient, and whether the person was sick enough to be admitted to a hospital," Landry said.
B strains are dominating in Southern states, including Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia. The region between Virginia and Pennsylvania is also seeing more illnesses linked back to B strains.
But other areas — such as the Carolinas and the Northeast — are seeing more of the A strain.
Certain Midwestern states, including Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, are reporting more A strain cases as well.
Expect Flu Activity to Continue Increasing
According to Dr. Adalja, the worst of the flu season may still be on the way.
"I expect that flu will continue to rise in activity as we have not reached a peak yet," Adalja said, adding that he suspects flu season will peak earlier than usual this year given the accelerated rate seen so far.
Flu season typically peaks in February, but health officials say it'll likely peak sometime between December and February. (There's a 40 percent chance it's already peaked, and a 30 percent chance it'll peak in January.)
People who haven't yet been vaccinated should make it a priority to do so now.
"It's not too late to get vaccinated as we have many more weeks of flu season left to go. Flu vaccination is always the best way to prevent flu and its potentially serious complications," the CDC emailed in a statement, noting that a vaccination location can be found at www.vaccinefinder.org.
The Bottom Line
As expected, flu activity picked up over the holidays. There have now been at least 6.4 million flu illnesses, 55,000 hospitalizations, and 2,900 flu-related deaths, the CDC announced Friday.
B/Victoria is the most predominant flu strain across the country, which is unusual for this time of year, but different regions are seeing different strains.
It's still not too late to get the flu shot, which remains the best line of defense.
- How Cooking Affects the Nutrient Content of Foods - EcoWatch ›
- COVID-19 Makes Getting a Flu Shot More Important Than Ever - EcoWatch ›
The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
In 'Road Map for a More Sustainable Future,' NY Regulator Tells Banks to Consider Climate Risks in Planning
By Brett Wilkins
Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.
There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.
A NASA spacecraft has successfully collected a sample from the Bennu asteroid more than 200 million miles away from Earth. The samples were safely stored and will be preserved for scientists to study after the spacecraft drops them over the Utah desert in 2023, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Exxon Mobil will lay off an estimated 14,000 workers, about 15% of its global workforce, including 1,900 workers in the U.S., the company announced Thursday.
- Will Chevron and Exxon Ever Be Held Responsible for Decades of ... ›
- Exxon Goes on Trial for Lying About the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Exxon Sues Massachusetts Attorney General to Block Climate Fraud ... ›