NEW YORK (AP) — Influenza is on the decline in many parts of the United States after an alarmingly early and strong start to the season.
The number of hospitalized flu patients is down for the second week in a row, according to a national surveillance system run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the percentage of doctor visits due to fever and other flu-like symptoms has declined for three consecutive weeks.
“It looks like for this first wave of (flu) activity, we may have seen the worst,” said Lynette Brammer of the CDC, which runs the government’s flu tracking agency in the United States.
But she added that there is still a lot of flu going around there. CDC data show that flu activity last week was high or very high in 45 states.
And the current decline doesn’t mean the flu will recede by the end of winter — second outbreaks are common, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.
“Viruses like to make you look stupid when you predict what they’re going to do,” he said.
The annual winter flu season doesn’t usually start until December or January, but this one started in early November. This has been compounded by the simultaneous spread of other viruses, including COVID-19 and RSV.
Traffic measurement at doctors’ offices is based on reports of symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat, rather than laboratory-confirmed diagnoses, so it covers all respiratory conditions together.
Whatever the current combination, the overall influence is weakening. Health officials said Friday that 6.3% of outpatient visits to the doctor last week were related to flu-like illnesses. It was as high as 7.5%, but began to decline starting the week of Thanksgiving.
Although flu activity remains high, officials said there has been some decline in much of the country — including the Southeast, where the flu hit early and hard.
The CDC estimates there have been at least 190,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 deaths from the flu this season. Among the dead are at least 17 children.
Flu shots are recommended for almost all Americans at least 6 months of age. Health officials say it’s not too late to get vaccinated.
“It’s not over yet,” Brammer said.
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