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Flu, COVID-19 pose dual threat to health as winter season closes, CDC says

The CDC reports the flu is still a concern in many parts of the country, even with winter coming to a close. File photo by nastya_gepp/Pixabay
The CDC reports the flu is still a concern in many parts of the country, even with winter coming to a close. File photo by nastya_gepp/Pixabay

March 27 (UPI) -- The flu has taken a backseat to COVID-19 in the minds of Americans, particularly as the winter season winds down, but its effects are still being felt, according to a report released Friday.

There was a slight uptick in cases of influenza across the country during the week ending March 21, with an estimated 1 million Americans becoming infected. The added cases bring the total for the 2019-20 flu season to an estimated 39 million, according to the latest FluView report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The agency estimates that 400,000 Americans have required hospitalization for the flu -- up 10,000 from the prior week -- and 24,000 have died, including 155 children, which is a high since the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009.

CDC noted that it's possible some of these numbers have been skewed by the new coronavirus pandemic, which has seen more than 90,000 people in the United States become sickened through Friday morning.

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Likely because of coronavirus fears, the U.S. saw an increase in the percentage of visits to healthcare providers for influenza-like illness during the week ending March 21, from 5.6 to 6.4 percent. Influenza and COVID-19 share several symptoms.

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Perhaps not surprisingly, 7.4 percent of all deaths reported in the United States during the week ending March 21 were attributed to pneumonia and influenza, an amount that is above the CDC's threshold for an epidemic of 7.3 percent. People with severe cases of COVID-19 typically develop pneumonia.

Overall, though, the number of regions reporting "high" flu activity across the country fell from 40 to 37 over the same period. In addition to New York City, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

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Roughly 54 percent of all laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu in the United States so far during the 2019-20 season have tested positive for influenza A. Still, the vast majority -- more than 98 percent -- of all strains of the virus in circulation respond to treatment with currently available antivirals, the CDC reports.

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