Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Nearly 18 million people have been sickened by flu this season, with 2 million reported in the past week alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.
The CDC's weekly report said 17.8 million cases of influenza have now been reported since October. Although the agency regards the 2018-2019 season as one of "low severity," flu has been a factor in up to 19,100 deaths, 221,000 hospitalizations and 8.4 million outpatient medical visits. At least 34 pediatric deaths have been reported.
The figures are all lower than CDC statistics from the same period last year.
"Vaccination remains the best way to protect against influenza and its potentially serious complications," the report said. "CDC continues to recommend influenza vaccination while influenza viruses are circulating in the community."
Vaccines are credited with lessening the severity of the flu's impact this season.
"On the basis of data from the U.S. Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network on 3,254 children and adults with acute respiratory illness during November 23, 2018 to February 2, 2019, the overall estimated effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccine for preventing medically attended, laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infection was 47 percent," the report said.
The H1N1 influenza virus is relatively mild in strength but cases have been found throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. Only Hawaii and Alaska have so far reported no widespread outbreaks. The more severe H3N2 variant has largely been confined to states in the Southeast, the report said.