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State of the flu: The season is winding down—but it's not over

February 11, 2014

    Paige Bashuck, Daily Briefing

    The flu is on a downward trend, but the virus will continue to be active for another month so people should continue to get vaccinated and take other influenza precautions, according to CDC officials.

    "The average influenza season lasts about 10 to 12 weeks, so we probably have three or four more weeks" to go, says CDC's Joseph Bresee, adding the "nation as a whole is going to see a lot of flu still…. Some parts will continue to see flu into April and May."

    How bad is the 2013-2014 flu season?

    According to the latest CDC data, 8.6% of all U.S. deaths were due to pneumonia and influenza in week five of 2014 (the week ending on Feb. 1). That's down slightly from 8.8% the week before.

    Moreover, the percentage of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) was 3.2% for W5, compared to 3.3% in W4 and 3.4% in W3. And just seven states are now reporting "high" levels of ILI, compared to 10 states in W4 and 13 states in W3.

    Although cases are dwindling in the southern parts of the United States, where the virus was spreading most rapidly earlier in the season, cases are on the rise in the Northeast. In the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and upper Midwest about 30% of patients with flu-like symptoms tested positive for the flu in W5.

    People should continue to get flu shots because the virus can be unpredictable—sometimes resurging in waves, according to Anat Feingold, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cooper University Hospital.

    "If you haven't yet been vaccinated it's definitely worth getting vaccinated — there's no down side," she said. Although children and elderly people remain the most vulnerable to the flu, this year's prevalent strain—H1N1—has infected an unusually high number of young, healthy adults.  

    Hospitals try to contain H1N1 outbreaks

    If needles and shots are a turnoff, patients should consider getting vaccinated with one of the new alternative methods—such as a patch or nasal spray.

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