Put away your thermometers, it seems flu season may have peaked, according to U.S. health officials who made the announcement Friday. The number of states reporting patients seeking help for seasonal influenza from their health care providers continued to drop over the past week although officials warned that the number of flu-related deaths were still at epidemic proportions.
Also encouraging was the news that deaths from flu and pneumonia have registered significant drops in the last two weeks, although rates still remained above the epidemic threshold.
“It’s likely that the worst of the current flu season is over,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokesman Tom Skinner.
An advance start to this year’s flu season, which arrived three weeks earlier than expected in December, led some health officials to predict a worse-than-ever scenario for U.S. populations. The last time the nation saw such an early and aggressive outbreak was during the influenza epidemic of 2003-2004; a season that began earlier than anticipated in October and killed dozens of children while filling hospital emergency rooms to capacity.
According to the CDC, on average 24,000 Americans die each year from influenza-related illness, approximately 100 of those are children. Unlike flu deaths in adults which are based on estimates, pediatric deaths have been a nationally notifiable condition since 2004 when over 152 pediatric flu deaths were reported.
This year a total of 59 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported so far, with the CDC weekly influenza surveillance report showing 14 in the week ending February 2.
So far the CDC has given this year’s flu season a ranking of moderate to severe. They emphasize that while the trend is encouraging, flu rates can spike at any time. They recommend that Americans still go for the flu shot to keep protected.
This year’s flu shot has been shown to have an overall vaccine effectiveness (VE) of 62% against the dominant strains with lower rates for influenza B cases than for influenza A.
To read more on this year's flu virus strains and the pros and cons of the flu shot, see below.