The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Tuesday that this year's flu season has breached the "epidemic threshold" as the virus continues to spread across the United States.
CDC came to that conclusion after its data revealed startling information, including the fact that nearly 7% of all deaths in the U.S. for the week ending Dec. 20 were due to pneumonia and influenza. In order to qualify as an epidemic, the number of deaths caused by the flu and pneumonia must reach the threshold of 6.8%.
Also, 15 children have died from the flu and the number of states reporting "high" levels of the virus jumped from 13 to 22 in just one week. The data also shows the hospitalization rate is the highest among 65-years-old and older at 38.3 per 100,000 people.
With about half of the country reporting influenza-like-ilnesses, this the earliest time the CDC has declared the flu season an epidemic since the 2012-2013 season. Although it sounds alarming, the Washington Post points out that the flu season always reaches epidemic levels, this time it's just a bit earlier — even though that means too early to determine "just how severe this year's epidemic will be."
Six states recorded moderate activity (Colorado, Michigan and New Mexico to name a few) and another eight states (including Washington, Nevada and Iowa) also had low activity. The CDC data was not sufficient enough to calculate how bad the flu outbreak is in the District of Columbia.
The problem was caused by a "drift," when the flu mutates to something else that the vaccine wasn't built to protect against. Although these kinds of mutations are common, this year's drift wasn't detected until it was too late to make a new vaccine.