Flu season rolls on, with relief in some states but worsening in others

Friday, January 25, 2013 - 11:00pm

Flu activity is still high, but is decreasing in many parts of the country, according to a report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention examining data from the week of January 13 to 19.

A total of 47 states reported "widespread" geographic influenza activity, down from 48 last week. "Widespread" means that more than 50% of geographic regions in a state -- counties, for example -- are reporting flu activity. This is a measure of the spread of the flu, not its severity.

High levels of influenza-like illness were seen in 26 states, representing a decrease from the 30 reported last week. Cases in the Southwest and Northwest were rising, but levels seem seem to be declining in the South, Southeast, New England and the Midwest.

The CDC counted eight pediatric deaths associated with influenza during the week. This brings the pediatric death toll to 37 for the season, which has already exceeded the count of 34 last season, a very mild flu season. The CDC does not count the number of flu-related adult deaths.

Half of hospitalizations associated with the flu were among adults 65 years and older. Based on laboratory-confirmed flu cases, there were 22.2 hospitalizations associated with the flu per 100,000 people.

Vaccine manufacturers told CNN earlier this month that there is enough flu vaccine for those who want it.

For this flu season, 133.5 million doses of influenza vaccine had been distributed as of January 18, the CDC said. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration announced that manufacturers produced 145 million doses of this season's flu vaccine for the United States.

The vaccine is about 62% effective, but it's the best tool available to prevent the illness, health officials say.

Most patients should not go to an emergency room, said Dr. David Zich, internal medicine and emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Just get plenty of rest and take painkillers to help with muscle aches, Zich said.

But serious cases do require a hospital visit. If a patient is short of breath or can't keep fluids down because of nausea, these are signs of a problem that needs immediate attention, Zich said.

Populations most at risk of serious illness from the flu should also see their doctor, CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said previously. These include very young children, senior citizens and people with underlying health conditions.

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