Could this nasty flu season finally be winding down? U.S. health officials on Friday said fewer visits to the doctor last week were for fever, cough and other flu symptoms than during the previous two weeks. Flu-like illnesses accounted for 1 out of 16 doctor visits last week, while the number of states reporting high patient traffic for the flu also dropped, to 39 from 43.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said they’re cautious about saying flu season has peaked but called the downturn encouraging.
“It does like the peak is behind us now,” said Dr. Daniel Jernigan, director of the CDC’s Influenza Division. Even so, he warned, “there is certainly a fair amount of influenza to go this season probably until mid-April.”
Flu season usually peaks in February, but this season started early and surged for months. It has been driven by a formidable type of flu that tends to cause more hospitalizations and deaths. This year’s flu vaccine is estimated to be only 25 percent effective against the H3N2 virus.
“H3N2 affects more older folks, with very high hospitalization and death rates,” Jernigan said, while influenza B, which is now becoming more prevalent, tends to affect younger people. Overall, the flu vaccine has been more effective for children than adults this year, reducing illness by 59 percent among kids ages 6 months to 8 years old.
The CDC reports 13 more children died of the flu last week, bringing the number of pediatric flu deaths to 97 this season.
Even at this point in the season, health officials recommend people get a flu shot if they haven’t already.