updated 4/8/2004 3:26:53 PM ET 2004-04-08T19:26:53

The flu season turned out to be fairly typical, despite an alarmingly severe start that killed dozens of children and flooded emergency rooms with sick kids, the government said Thursday.

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The percentage of doctor visits and deaths related to the flu were above average, but other recent flu seasons appear to have been worse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. For example, a potent flu strain made the 1999-2000 season worse than this year.

“The current season was more severe than the previous three seasons but was within the range expected” for a typical flu season, CDC officials said in a study.

Health officials do not keep a tally of flu cases because of the difficulty in tracking the virus. But an average of 36,000 people die each year in the United States from the flu, according to the agency.

Season started early
Health officials said the virus killed 142 children this year. The outbreak did not appear to be especially deadly for children, at least for those under 5, officials said.

According to preliminary CDC data, this flu season started early (in October), peaked between late November and December, and declined rapidly through February.

The fast start caused widespread fear across the United States. Schools closed because so many students came down with the flu, doctors had to turn away droves of sick people, and a vaccine shortage only added to the woes.

It appears the flu season is over. For the second week in a row, no state has had more than sporadic activity, according to the CDC’s latest data, from the week ending March 27.

“We wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a second wave, but it’s pretty unlikely at this point,” said Dr. Niranjan Bhat, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s influenza branch.

CDC officials are working to have states require doctors and hospitals to report all child flu deaths. Rapid flu tests that are now in wide use have helped identify the causes of the child deaths.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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