The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the worst influenza epidemic in the United States in a decade might be easing in some places.
The CDC flu advisory report released Friday finds widespread outbreaks in 47 states, up from 41 last week, but with fewer states reporting high levels of influenza-like illness.
CDC Director Tom Frieden, speaking to reporters Friday, said that follows a common pattern.
“Generally we do see flu roll across the country as it rolls across the globe and spreads to the West. So it’s not unexpected to see it start in the South and Southeast and then spread gradually to the West,” he said.
Influenza Pandemics of the 20th Century
1918 Spanish Flu: Killed more than 500,000 people in the U.S., and 20 million to 50 million people worldwide.
1957 Asian Flu: Killed roughly 70,000 people in the U.S.
1968 Hong Kong Flu: First detected in Hong Kong, this virus caused roughly 34,000 deaths in the U.S.
Frieden said cases in the U.S. South and Southeast appear to be declining because the illness already has peaked in those regions. Adult mortality from seasonal flu outbreaks, which typically reaches the tens of thousands each year in the U.S., is not reported until the end of the season. But the CDC's weekly analysis finds that deaths among children younger than 18 years of age rose by two, bringing the total number of pediatric deaths to 20 so far this season.
Joseph Bresee, who heads the CDC's Influenza Division, said Friday that the vaccine developed to combat the most prevalent strains of flu is “62 percent effective.” That means that almost four in 10 people who get the vaccine and are exposed to the virus will still become infected. Bresee says the vaccine's performance is on par with other recent vaccines.
“We’d love to it to be better, but it is a substantial public health benefit for the population,” said Bresee.
The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of six months get a flu shot.
The federal public health agency says the percentage of people going to the hospital for treatment of flu symptoms has doubled in the past month. In some regions, hospitals are having to turn flu patients away.
The mayor of Boston declared a public health emergency Wednesday, with 10 times more cases reported compared to last year in the northeastern U.S. city.
U.S. health authorities say the flu arrived a month earlier than usual this year, in November, and the most prevalent flu strain - H3N2 - has a reputation for causing fairly severe illness, especially in the elderly.