Flu season sees latest start in 29 years

Only Calif., Colo., have reported widespread influenza

CDC on Friday announced the beginning of the 2012 winter flu season, marking the latest flu season start in about 29 years.

According to the New York Times, a national flu season officially begins when more than 10% of all respiratory specimens reported to CDC contain influenza for three straight weeks. CDC says that 14.4% of specimens last week tested positive, up from 13.4% the week before.

Despite the late start, Joseph Bresee, chief of CDC's epidemiology and prevention branch, says the virus has been reported in all 50 U.S. states. Overall, Bresee notes that this year's strains are "well matched" to the strains covered in the 2011-2012 flu vaccine.

Meanwhile, only California and Colorado have reported widespread influenza so far this season. Far fewer patients have been hospitalized with the flu so far this year, and CDC has confirmed only three pediatric flu deaths. In comparison, 122 children died from the flu last year and 282 died during the 2009-2010 season.

Bresee says the unusually warm winter may have contributed to the mild, late season. The influenza virus survives longer in cold, dry weather, conditions that often prompt people to gather indoors, where they can more easily spread the disease (McNeil, New York Times, 2/24; Pullen, Medscape Medical News, 2/24; Brown, "Booster Shots," Los Angeles Times, 2/24).

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