The United States' flu epidemic has now hit all 50 states, with 47 states reporting "widespread" activity, according to reports by the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets on Friday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is in charge of monitoring the outbreak, reportedly told the media in its weekly update that while some areas of the country are still seeing increases, others appear to be experiencing a decline in the number of new cases.
The Midwest appears to be one of the areas that is experiencing a decline in the number of new cases being reported, according to the Chicago Tribune report. The Northwest and Southwest are among the regions still experiencing an increase in the number of new cases.
Here is some of the key information regarding the U.S.'s influenza epidemic as of Friday.
* An epidemic occurs when a disease causes a higher percentage of deaths in any given period than expected. For the last few weeks, the CDC had set an epidemic threshold for the United States of 7.2 percent. Influenza still accounted for 7.2 percent of all deaths in the U.S. last week, meaning it is still considered an epidemic.
* The percentage of deaths from influenza last week marks a decline from the previous week, when, as reported by NBC News and other media outlets, pneumonia and flu accounted for 9.8 percent of all deaths.
* Seniors continue to be the demographic most affected by the flu, although 37 children are known to have died from the disease this season as well.
* NBC News was among the media outlets reporting on Friday that the CDC has discovered the first case of influenza that is resistant to Tamiflu. Tamiflu is currently the flu treatment of choice among medical professionals. Older drugs that had previously been used to treat flu, including amantadine and rimantadine, are no longer effective due to mutations in the disease itself that rendered it resistant to those medications.
* Some 133.5 million flu vaccinations have been distributed this year around the U.S., according to CNN and other media outlets, although the actual number of people who have been vaccinated this year is currently unknown.
* The flu vaccine when administered is up to 62 percent effective at preventing flu, and is the most effective preventative treatment currently available.
* Reuters reported on Thursday that researchers at Johns Hopkins University are using social media to track the flu epidemic this year. Scientists have teamed with computer experts at the university to track the flu using Twitter.
* The method used by the team at Johns Hopkins reportedly uses an algorithm to weed out the tweets about actual cases from the general chatter about the epidemic itself in order to get a more accurate count of the impact of the disease across the U.S.
Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.
- Public Health