If you’re starting to feel under the weather, it’s possible that the flu virus, not COVID-19, is to blame. While flu cases remain low in comparison to the years prior to the pandemic, this is the first time in decades that flu cases have peaked so late in the season.
Cases peaked with 10% of tests turning positive in April. For the week ending in April 30, that rate was 8.1%.
Lynnette Brammer, head of the CDC’s domestic influenza surveillance team, told NBC News that a flu season hasn’t peaked this late since 1982.
“We aren’t used to thinking of flu in May, but it’s definitely still out there,” she told the network.
It’s possible that an end of masking protocols this spring has contributed to this unusual pattern. During the 2020-2021 flu season, infections were at an all-time low, presumably due to social distancing and masking measures that were widely in place.
Rates of infection vary by region, and the most recent CDC data show the highest rates in New Mexico, Colorado, and Puerto Rico.
The CDC estimates that this flu season has seen 5.7 million illnesses, 59,000 hospitalizations, and 3,600 deaths. A total of 24 pediatric deaths have been reported. In comparison, only one pediatric death was reported in the 2020-2021 season, when pandemic precautions were widespread. During the 2019-2020 flu season, 199 pediatric deaths were reported. In 2018-2019, that number was 144.
Children can develop complications from flu, and the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months old and up receive a flu vaccine as long as flu activity continues — meaning there’s still time. While the H3N2 virus responsible for the vast majority of this season’s illnesses isn’t the best fit for the vaccines, the vaccine can prevent hospitalizations and deaths even when it doesn’t prevent infection.
If you or your child is experiencing symptoms such as fever, body aches, or cough, which could signal either the flu, COVID-19, or another virus, it’s worth seeing your medical provider right away. In the case of both COVID-19 and flu, available antiviral treatments are most effective when taken early on in the course of infection.