The spread of influenza, or flu, is beginning to slow in several areas in the United States after many hospitals reported an erratic number of flu-related admissions this season.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the number of flu-related hospitalizations fell for the second straight week after the percentage of flu-related doctor visits declined similarly for three consecutive weeks.
Health officials said on Friday that 6.3% of outpatient doctor visits in the past week were due to flu-like illness, down from 7.5% just a month ago.
“It looks like we may have experienced the worst in this first wave of (flu) activity,” said CDC’s Lynnette Brammer, the lead of the CDC’s domestic influenza surveillance team.
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Despite the weeks-long drop, Brammer urged people to remain cautious and monitor health safety behaviors, as CDC data indicates “high or very high” flu activity in 45 states.
“It’s not over yet,” Brammer warned.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, downplayed the recent trend as observable but unpredictable for the spread of the flu this season.
“Viruses love to make you look ridiculous when you predict what they’re going to do,” he said.
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Traditionally, the annual flu season begins in December or January and lasts for several weeks or months before flu-like symptoms disappear in the general population.
However, this current flu season started in early November and its spread coincides with the COVID pandemic and an increase in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
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The CDC estimates that from October 1, 2022 to December 17, 2022 there have been between 190,000 and 400,000 hospitalizations and at least 12,000 deaths from the flu in the United States. Those deaths include at least 17 children.
“The CDC does not know the exact number of people who have been sick and affected by the flu because the flu is not a reportable disease in most areas of the United States,” the CDC said in reference to its estimates of the cumulative burden of the flu Flu. “However, these numbers are estimated using a mathematical model based on observed rates from laboratory confirmers. Cumulative influenza burden is an estimate of the number of people who were sick, visited a healthcare provider, were hospitalized, or died as a result of influenza over a given period of time.”
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In 2021, the CDC estimated there were 100,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 5,000 flu-related deaths in the United States
The CDC recommends everyone 6 months of age or older get a flu shot.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.