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Unlike most years, the 2019-20 flu season is hitting younger Americans especially hard, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received reports of seven additional child deaths this week, bringing the total to 39 — more than double the number at this time last year.

Approximately 44 percent of reported flu cases this season are affecting children age 17 and under. The increase is due to a shift in the predominant strain, health officials say. While the predominant strain is usually Influenza A, this year it’s Influenza B, which tends to affect children more. The strain also is known to cause severe complications such as pneumonia, encephalitis, sinusitis and ear infections.

Wisconsin’s flu season has been hard-hitting so far in 2020, and health officials in the state are reporting the first child death from influenza.

According to the state Department of Health Services, the child was less than 10 years old, and lived in southeastern Wisconsin. Health officials said the child quickly became ill and died on the way to the hospital.

Health officials said a specific strain of the flu — influenza B — was responsible for the child’s death.

Nationally, according to the CDC’s influenza report for the week ending Jan. 11, the percentage of virus specimens testing positive for influenza fell from 23.3 percent for the week ending Jan. 4 to 22.9 percent this week. However, flu activity remains high, officials said, and the number of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths indicates we haven’t yet reached the peak of this year’s flu season.

The CDC estimates that, so far this season, there have been at least 13 million illnesses, 120,000 hospitalizations and 6,600 deaths from the flu.

For comparison, the CDC reported a total of 9.7 million illnesses, 87,000 hospitalizations and 4,800 deaths in its weekly report ending Jan. 4.

The latest data from the agency shows that the virus has been widespread in nearly all states, including Wisconsin. Only two states, Oregon and Hawaii, in addition to the District of Columbia, are reporting regional or local activity.

The CDC’s surveillance of influenza-like illness measures the level of flu activity within a state. According to the latest data, flu activity is high in New York City, Puerto Rico and 33 states. In Wisconsin, reported flu activity is high.

The groups most at risk of the flu are older adults, very young children, pregnant women and those with certain chronic medical conditions, according to the CDC.

According to the CDC, symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills (though not everyone with flu will have a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

The flu is a highly contagious illness, which is why the CDC urges everyone to take the following steps to protect themselves and others:

  • Take time to get a flu shot: While there are many different flu viruses, a flu vaccine protects against the viruses that research suggests will be most common. The CDC says it’s not too late to get this year’s vaccine.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • If you are sick with flu symptoms, you should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs such as the flu.
  • Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

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