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Death toll rises as US faces flu epidemic
January 11, 2013, 2:09 pm

A doctor holds a vile of flu vaccination. [Getty Images]

A doctor holds a vial of flu vaccination [Getty Images]

Medical authorities in most of the continental United States and Alaska are scrambling to ensure that hospitals are stocked with flu vaccines as 41 states face a rising number of cases of the H3N2 virus.

The largest vaccine suppliers said they had shipped most of their volume and some clinics had reported shortages, in what some media are calling a “flu emergency”.

The authorities were encouraging people to check the Healthmap Vaccine Finder or the Center for Disease Control’s website for locations where the vaccine is available.

Physicians interviewed on various media outlets have said this particular strain can lead to more severe complications than other viruses.

The CDC says this is the worst flu season in 10 years, likely surpassing in severity the H1N1 (Swine flu) virus, which killed 12,000 people in the US in 2009.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told CNN on Thursday that the US was experiencing what could be classically defined as a flu epidemic.

The H3N2 strain keeps people ill for a longer time. According to the CDC, flu season can begin in October and last through May, peaking during the coldest months, usually January.

Traditionally, infants and the elderly are the most susceptible to the flu, but this year, authorities have reported higher numbers of elderly, 65 years and older, being hospitalized.

On Thursday, Massachusetts declared a public health emergency in the city of Boston as public health officials there said hospitals were near saturation with patients seeking flu treatment. Eighteen people have died from the flu in Massachusetts.

In other states, the death toll has been higher. With 11,000 confirmed flu patients, Pennsylvania reported 22 deaths, mostly among the elderly, as of Thursday evening; Oklahoma reported eight deaths; Indiana reported 12 deaths and South Carolina 22.

The highest death rate reported has been in the state of Minnesota – 27 deaths, 23 of which have been among the elderly.

Statewide statistics from the CDC indicate the virus has killed 18 children.

The CDC is stressing that the flu season has not yet peaked and is advising people who can to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Different flu vaccines are 60 to 80 per cent effective in preventing the flu. Vaccinated people who do contract the virus tend to require less severe medical treatment or hospitalization.

Source: Agencies