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VERIFY: Yes, in terms of illness, this flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in a decade

At least 9.7 million people got the flu, 87,000 have been hospitalized and 4,800 have died, according to the CDC. Of those who died, 32 of them, were children.

QUESTION:

Is this flu season predicted to be one of the worst in a decade?

ANSWER:

Yes, in terms of the number of people getting sick and going to the doctor.
No, in terms of number of hospitalizations and deaths.

SOURCES:

Dr. Anthony Fauci - director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health

Lynette Brammer- lead of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Domestic Influenza Surveillance team 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - "2017-2018 Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths and Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths Averted by Vaccination in the United States"

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -  2019-2020 outpatient illness surveillance

PROCESS:

If there's one truism about the flu, it's that it's unpredictable. Still it's better to be prepared. 

Between Oct. 1, 2019 - Jan. 4, 2020, at least 9.7 million people became ill with influenza, at least 87,000 have been hospitalized and 4,800 have died, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Of those who died, 32 of them were children. 

Lots of people are talking about this flu season coming in particularly strong, and claiming on social media that this flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in a decade.

So we’re verifying: Is that true?

Our verify researchers spoke with two of the top flu experts in the country: Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health, and Lynette Brammer who heads the CDC's Domestic Influenza Surveillance team.

In terms of the actual number of those falling ill with the flu: yes.

"We can say that it is on course of being at least as bad as the worst two seasons we’ve had in the last ten years," Fauci said.

Take a look at this graph from the CDC, tracking the percentage of people visiting the doctor for the flu. That turquoise line is from two years ago.

Credit: CDC

That skyrocketing red line is the percent of patient visits this year so far.

“If you look at illnesses, there’s a lot of people sick, and illness is very similar to what we saw in 2017-2018 which was a really, really bad year," Brammer said. "But if you look at our indicators of severeness, hospitalizations and death, those aren’t high.”

So yes, we can Verify, in terms of people going to the doctor for the flu, this year is shaping up to be one of the worst in a decade.

Brammer explained that this flu virus is very different from the virus we saw two years. 

The one predominately circulating now is Influenza B, which impacts children heavily but not the elderly.

"In general, children drive illness, they go to the doctor a lot more," Brammer said. "But the people that get hospitalized and die from influenza, largely are people of 65 years of age, and if they're not impacted by the flu that's circulating, you see what were seeing this year. You see a lot of illness which is children, but you don't see much hospitalization or death."

The virus going around in 2017-2018 was H3N2, which largely affects the elderly, and led to many hospitalizations and deaths.

RELATED: Here's what you should know about this year's flu season

RELATED: VERIFY: Do less than half of U.S. adults get vaccinated for the flu?

RELATED: VERIFY: Is there a nationwide shortage of high-dose flu vaccine?

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