Puerto Rico declares flu epidemic, with more than 900 hospitalizations and dozens of deaths reported

The Puerto Rico Department of Health declared an influenza epidemic Thursday, with at least 900 hospitalizations and 25,900 cases recorded since flu season began in July. It’s the first flu epidemic in the US territory since 2016, officials say.

As of November 4, there have been 42 confirmed deaths this season, according to Dr. Melissa Marzán, an epidemiologist with the health department. Nine other deaths are under investigation.

“The current flu season began above the alert threshold,” Marzán said, adding that there have been nearly six times as many cases this flu season as there were at this time last year.

In order to declare an epidemic, she says, several criteria need to be met. One is that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s monitoring system for the virus needs to reach a high level. Puerto Rico’s flu activity is currently high, data from the CDC confirms.

“This is not the time to be alarmed, but to prepare to help prevent the increase in the spread of this virus,” Secretary of Health Dr. Carlos Mellado López said in a statement. The Puerto Rico Department of Health also reported that it will begin a mass vaccination program.

“We already have experience in combatting the disease. We know that influenza has a period where transmission is usually high. If we do our part, get vaccinated, and protect ourselves, we will stop the disease,” Mellado López said.

The majority of flu cases appear to be in children and young people, with more than 13,600 cases recorded among newborns through 19-year-olds, according to the health department. More than 9,600 cases were recorded among adults between 20 and 59 years old, while older adults made up about 2,500 cases.

Puerto Rico’s 2022-23 flu season had 31,710 total cases, with 15 deaths and 1,224 hospitalizations, the health department said.

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