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Flu Virus Surged After Thanksgiving... and It's Only Getting Worse

Emergency room hospital beds

Emergency room hospital beds, which are now 80 percent full nationally for the first time in over a decade.

There have been about 26 flu hospitalizations for every 100,000 people, the highest in over a decade.

(CNN) — Flu surged in the United States after Thanksgiving, bringing the most severe week yet in a season that hit the county extra early. More than a third of all flu hospitalizations and deaths so far this season were reported in just the past week, and cases also jumped nearly as much.

New data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there have been at least 13 million illnesses, 120,000 hospitalizations, and 7,300 deaths from flu so far this season.

The latest update captures data through December 3 and is the first full week of data post-Thanksgiving. It shows that respiratory virus activity remains elevated across the country amid a flu season that hit the country early and hard — and health officials have warned that gathering indoors during the holidays may lead to rising cases.

All but seven states are experiencing "high" or "very high" respiratory virus activity, according to the CDC. States with moderate, low, or minimal activity are Alaska, Hawaii, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia.

There have been about 26 flu hospitalizations for every 100,000 people — a rate that hasn't been this high at this point in the season in more than a decade.

Nearly 26,000 people were admitted to the hospital for flu last week, filling about 6,000 more beds than the week before. About 1 in 4 lab tests were positive for flu last week and nearly 1 in 10 deaths were due to pneumonia, influenza or Covid-19 — well above the epidemic threshold of about 6 percent.

Data from Walgreens that tracks prescriptions for Tamiflu and other flu treatments suggests that flu hotspots spread from El Paso to southwest Virginia.

Last year's flu season was relatively mild, but the number of flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths that have been reported so far in the current season have already surpassed the total number recorded throughout the entirety of last season.

Hospitals are more full now than they've been throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a CNN analysis of data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

About 80 percent of hospital beds are in use nationwide, jumping 8 percentage points in the past two weeks.

Hospitals have been required to report capacity information since mid-2020 as part of a federal effort to track the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hospitals have been more than 70 percent full for the vast majority of that time. But they've been 80 percent full at only one other point: in January, during the height of the Omicron surge in the US. Back in January, about a quarter of hospital beds were in use for Covid-19 patients. But now, only about 6 percent of beds are in use for Covid-19 patients, according to the HHS data.

In a statement on Friday, Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety with the American Hospital Association, says that an influx of flu patients is a key reason why hospitals are filling up, but they're also facing RSV and illnesses in people who put off care during the pandemic.

"Workforce shortages have not only made it more challenging for hospitals, but also have diminished the number of patients who can be cared for in nursing homes and other post acute care settings," the statement said. "Thus, patients are spending more time in hospitals, awaiting discharge to the next level of care and limiting our ability to make a bed available to a patient who truly needs to be hospitalized."

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Deidre Mcphillips