Courtesy of CDC via Twitter
**FILE** Courtesy of CDC via Twitter

At least 1,300 people have died from the flu so far this season, according to a preliminary estimate released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been at least 2.6 million flu illnesses and 23,000 flu-related hospitalizations, according to the analysis. So far this season, the CDC has received reports of 10 children who have died from the flu, four more than the week before.

Experts have warned that flu is hitting the United States early this year, and there are concerns that this early season could mean a particularly severe season overall.

Flu spread significantly in all states except Alaska as of the week ending December 7. Both the eastern and western U.S. are being hit hard, with widespread flu activity in 23 states. Flu activity is being caused mostly by influenza B/Victoria viruses, which is unusual for this time of year, according to the CDC, and B strains tend to hit children particularly hard. Influenza A/H1N1 viruses are increasing in proportion relative to other flu viruses in some regions, the CDC said.

People with the flu often experience fever, chills, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue, according to the CDC. Some, more commonly children, may have vomiting and diarrhea. Many people become ill suddenly and recover within a few weeks. Flu complications, such as pneumonia, can result in hospitalization or even death. Some people are at higher risk for complications from the flu, including children younger than 5 years old, particularly those under 2. Other groups at high risk are adults 65 and older, pregnant women, residents of long-term care facilities and people with weakened immune systems, asthma, heart disease and diabetes.

Hand-washing, avoiding sick people and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth can help prevent the flu. But the most important step to stop seasonal flu is for everyone 6 months or older to get vaccinated, according to the CDC. If the flu is circulating in the area where you live, it is not too late to get vaccinated.

Legal Smoking Age in U.S. is Changing to 21

The legal age in the U.S. to smoke will rise to 21 next year, according to a new law passed by Congress on Thursday. The age increase will cover cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and all other tobacco products.

President Donald Trump voiced support for the change in November and is expected to sign the bill in the coming days, part of a larger spending bill that will prevent a federal government shutdown. The nationwide increase in the legal smoking age, now 18 but already higher in almost half of all states, has long been a goal of anti-smoking advocates and has bipartisan support.

While cigarette smoking has declined among high school seniors — only about 3.6 percent smoke daily — the use of e-cigarettes has nearly doubled from last year, with 20.9 percent reporting such use in the last month. That increase, along with a nationwide outbreak of unrelated but deadly lung injuries among people buying illicit vaping products, largely THC liquids, has spurred the legal age increase. Some tobacco firms have even supported the move, as does the American Vaping Association.

American Lung Association President Harold Wimmer hailed the age increase in a statement on the measure, but added, “ultimately, more must be done by both Congress and the Trump Administration if our nation is to halt the youth e-cigarette epidemic.”

The spending bill recently passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate; the age increase should take effect nationwide in about nine months, after the bill is signed.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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