Politics 101

The 2018 flu epidemic: What you need to know

This year's flu season is one of the worst on recent record, and federal officials warn it's not getting better anytime soon.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 53 children have died of the flu this season. Of the children who died, about half had no underlying medical conditions.

The disease has also sent more people to the hospital than any other time in recent history. Things could still level out, but officials said that right now it's not looking good.

The flu is a virus, and there are three different strains circulating this year. The flu vaccine is meant to fight against H3N2, H1N1 and influenza B.

CDC officials aren't exactly sure why this season has been so rough, but most of the country has been hit by the flu at the same time, which officials said was unusual.

The predominant virus this year has been H3N2, which means there have been more complications among the young and elderly. The flu vaccine isn't as effective against this strain as it is for the others.

Flu season began in October; the average duration is 16 weeks, but it can last up to 20 weeks.

"This season is a somber reminder of why flu is one of the greatest public health challenges," CDC acting Director Anne Schuchat said during a recent call with reporters.

According to Schuchat, parents should be on the lookout for symptoms like a high persistent fever, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat and significant fatigue or confusion.

People die from the flu every year, but the numbers vary. The most susceptible are young children, senior citizens and people with chronic conditions.

Viruses like the flu can weaken the immune system, which then makes it easier for those people to catch an infection like pneumonia.

According to the CDC, influenza-associated deaths in the United States have ranged from a low of 12,000 during 2011-2012 to a high of 56,000 during 2012-2013.

Hospitalizations also vary widely depending on the severity of the season. As few as 140,000 were hospitalized during 2011-2012, while as many as 710,000 were hospitalized during the 2014-2015 season, the CDC said.

During the 2015-2016 flu season, the CDC estimated that 310,000 people were hospitalized for flu-related illness.

Still, there are easy ways for people to minimize their risk of catching the flu this year. The easiest thing to do is get the flu shot - it's not too late.

CDC officials also said to make sure people wash their hands, stay home if they're sick and to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze.

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