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Flu season is here. Getty Images
  • One child in Texas died after contracting flu-like symptoms.
  • But experts warn the flu can also be dangerous for people over 65.
  • The CDC estimates up to 85 percent of annual flu deaths are in older adults.

Flu activity continues to increase across the country, with seven states reporting high levels of flu activity.

Another 42 states are now reporting low or minimal flu activity. 

The overall hospitalization rate is 1.4 per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) weekly flu report

The states with the highest amount of activity are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas.

The flu mortality rate also climbed — 5.2 percent of deaths were linked to pneumonia and influenza (P&I), whereas 4.9 percent were linked to P&I the week prior.

Like past seasons, young children and older adults are most at risk when it comes to the flu. 

“The highest rate of hospitalization was among adults aged 65 or older (3.6 per 100,000 population), followed by children aged 0-4 (2.2 per 100,000 population),” the CDC reported Friday.

Texas reported an unvaccinated 5-year-old died from flu complications, bringing the pediatric death total to five. And the Iowa Department of Public Health announced two older adults died from the flu.  

Vaccination is the best way to protect young children and older adults from the flu and its life-threatening complications. 

So far, over 164 million Americans have gotten the flu shot, and the CDC is urging everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated immediately as flu season ramps up.

Children have the greatest risk

A type of flu strain called B/Victoria is most prevalent this season, particularly among young children.

“Nationally, influenza B/Victoria viruses are the most commonly reported influenza viruses among children age 0-4 years (48% of reported viruses) and 5-24 years (56% of reported viruses),” the CDC reported about this year’s activity. 

Health experts say the B/Victoria strain typically causes a more severe illness in children.

“Prior observational studies showed that influenza B can cause severe disease in children. It is not known why the virus or the host’s response leads to a severe presentation,” says Dr. Aaron Milstone, the associate hospital epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

When it comes to the flu, younger children are more vulnerable than older children. 

Additionally, the majority of illnesses occur in children who are otherwise healthy, according to Dr. Marietta Vazquez, a Yale Medicine pediatrician and infectious diseases expert. 

“Fifty percent of young children infected with influenza end up hospitalized. Their immune systems are not fully matured, so they have no previous immunity towards influenza,” Vazquez told Healthline. 

Milstone added that young children are more fragile and tend to become dehydrated more quickly than adults. They’re more prone to complications, including pneumonia, brain dysfunction, sinus and ear infections, and even death. 

While children under 6 months have a very high risk, most should be naturally protected as long as their mother got the flu vaccine during pregnancy. 

“For this reason, pregnant woman should be vaccinated to protect their infants during the first 6 months of life,” Milstone advised. 

Seniors more at risk for serious complications

People aged 65 and older also have a heightened risk.

According to the CDC, 70 to 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in people age 65 and older, and between 50 to 70 percent of flu-related hospitalizations involve older adults each year.

“This is primarily due to the fact that human immune defenses become weaker with increasing age. Also older individuals have higher chances of having other chronic diseases that increase the chances of more severe influenza,” Vazquez said. 

The A(H3N2) strain — which was most commonly reported last year — is again most prevalent in seniors, accounting for 70 percent of reported viruses in the age bracket. 

This strain is particularly dangerous to older adults, according to the CDC.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a pair of higher dose flu shots specifically designed for people older than 65. This vaccine contains four times the antigen — the part of the vaccine that helps your body fight the virus — than standard dose vaccines. 

Flu vaccination has been shown to give older adults a stronger immune response, and therefore, a better chance at preventing the flu along with serious complications and death. 

The bottom line

Flu activity continues to increase across the country, with seven states now reporting high levels of flu activity.

Already, there have been five pediatric deaths and a number of mortalities among older adults. Young children and older adults are most at risk when it comes to the flu and its severe, life threatening complications — and the vaccine is the best way to protect them against the flu.