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 / Updated  / Source: NBC News

Flu season still isn’t over, and a new strain of flu virus has taken over to make people miserable in the early days of spring, federal officials said Friday.

About half the country is still in the grip of flu, and the H3N2 strain that had mutated just enough to infect even vaccinated people has now been replaced by the influenza B strain, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

And seven more children have died from influenza, the CDC says, bringing the season total to 123 deaths.

Influenza does seem to be starting to wane, but it’s been a long and severe season, CDC says. “The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) based on the 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System decreased to 6.9 percent this week. This is below the epidemic threshold of 7.1 percent,” CDC said.

No one directly counts flu cases or deaths and so CDC extrapolates based on data reported from 13 states.

This was an especially bad flu year for people 65 and older. “The hospitalization rate in people 65 years and older is 296.2 per 100,000, which is the highest hospitalization rate recorded since data collection on laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalization in adults began during the 2005-2006 season,” CDC said.

People over 65 are the most likely to get flu vaccines, but this year the vaccine didn’t protect against the H3N2 strain that happened to be circulating. The good news is that it does protect against the influenza B strain that’s now the most common, so people who got vaccinated should be protected.

CDC says a flu B strain often emerges after the usual winter flu season winds down.

Flu usually hits the very young and very old the hardest. Depending on the season, it kills anywhere between 4,000 and 50,000 people a year in the United States.


-- Maggie Fox