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Is flu season winding down? Maybe, CDC says

However, a second wave of influenza can hit in late winter and early spring
by Maggie Fox /  / Updated 
Image: Dr. Doug Olson asks patient William Ness, 70, how he is feeling after his wife drove him to the emergency room and he was diagnosed with flu at Northside Hospital Emergency Room in Cumming, Georgia, on Jan. 29, 2018.
Dr. Doug Olson asks patient William Ness, 70, how he is feeling after his wife drove him to the emergency room and he was diagnosed with flu n Cumming, Georgia, on Jan. 29Robert Ray / AP

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The terrible 2017-2018 flu season may be starting to wind down, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

But it’s nowhere close to being over, and flu is still widespread in most states, the CDC said on its weekly report on the annual influenza epidemic.

And more children have died from flu, bringing the total for the year so far to 97.

“It's been a tough season so far this year, but this week we're actually seeing the influenza-like illness activity beginning to drop,” Dr. Daniel Jernigan, one of the CDC’s top flu experts, told NBC News.

“It looks like the peak of the season may actually be behind us at this point.”

Flu activity had been widespread across virtually the entire country for weeks on end, but now 39 states, New York City, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico are reporting high flu activity.

Believe it or not, that’s good news, Jernigan said.

“We're seeing that the weekly rate of hospitalizations is beginning to decline, and also the deaths,” he said.

“Clearly it’s been going down on the west coast and now it’s starting to go down in the Rockies and the mid-west, but there’s still a lot of influenza happening in the East coast and in the South.”

So many people die of flu that they are not counted one by one, except for children. Instead, the CDC looks at how many deaths are reported from flu-like illness or pneumonia and extrapolates from those. The latest data, which goes back to the week that ended February 3, showed that 9.5 percent of all deaths were from flu and pneumonia.

Flu kills between 12,000 and 59,000 people every year in the U.S. alone and puts as many as 700,000 into the hospital. It takes weeks to gather data but this year has shaped up to be on the severe end in terms of sickness, deaths and hospitalizations.

“It looks like the peak of the season may actually be behind us at this point.”

Jernigan cautions that flu season is not over.

“There is still a lot of influenza to come and so we're likely to see influenza continue to circulate until April,” he said.

And it’s common to see a second wave of flu in late winter or early spring in the U.S. Several different strains of influenza are circulating at any given time. This year, H1N1, H3N2 and two strains of influenza B are common.

Vaccines protect against three or four strains and Jernigan said it is still not too late to get one. Even though the vaccine provides poor protection against infection for some people against some strains of the flu, it can prevent severe illness and death.

“If you look at pediatric deaths, we see that only about a quarter of those children were vaccinated,” Jernigan said.

“Especially if they're under age 9, they should be getting two vaccines to get full protection.”

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