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Flu season is not over yet because of second viral wave

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A surprising second viral wave has helped this year's flu season reach 21 weeks in the United States. And it’s still going.

The previous longest flu season was 20 weeks, which occurred in 2014-15.

Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein says the national numbers correlate with the local ones.

"This season started off slowly. We did peak late in Erie County and New York State," Burstein explained. "We didn’t really peak in terms of the number of reported influenza cases until about the middle of March, when  usually we peak around the end of January or early February."

Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it’s like having two different flu seasons compressed into one. Still, Burstein says this was a less severe flu season even with the second wave.

"The overall numbers of influenza were lower this year because the vaccine strains were very similar to the circulating virus strains," Burstein said. "And we didn’t see as many ill people because even if people who were immunized (caught) influenza, they were much less likely to become seriously ill because there was some partial protection from the vaccine."

But federal health officials the harsher bug from the second wave was not well matched to this year's flu vaccine. The CDC estimated flu-related deaths may reach 55,000. That would be a significant decrease from last year, when 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications.

Until flu season is declared over, Burstein said her office will continue to monitor those who are most vulnerable.

"We get concerned about people that may have poor immunity, especially our seniors just because of their age," she said. "Their immune system is not as strong."


Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.