The flu remains an epidemic in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but disease rates appear to be falling.
New CDC data on flu activity during the week of February 3 to 9, shows the number of states reporting widespread flu activity has fallen from 38 states in last week's report to 31 this week. The number of states reporting high activity has also fallen, from 19 states and New York City from the previous report to 11 states and NYC in the latest.
"I think it's safe to say that we're trending down," Lyn Finelli, chief of influenza surveillance at CDC, told USA Today. "The activity started in the Southeast and South Central, around Texas, Arkansas, and we saw that area start to trend down a couple of weeks ago. Then it moved up to the Northeast and the Midwest and then to the West, where it was trending up until about a week ago and now is consistently trending down."
The flu continues to be considered an epidemic because 9.1 percent of all deaths were tied to flu or pneumonia, surpassing the CDC's epidemic threshold of 7.5 percent of deaths for the sixth week of the year. That's actually up slightly from last week's report that attributed 9 percent of all U.S. deaths for the week of Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 to flu or pneumonia.
An increase in flu-related hospitalizations was also reported, with 32.1 hospitalizations per 100,000 Americans, up from 29.8 per every 100,000 in the previous report. As has been the case for the past several weeks, more than 50 percent of those hospitalized are 65 and older.
Five more children died from flu according to the CDC, raising the total on the season to 64 influenza-associated pediatric deaths.
This year's flu season started early, hitting some regions harder than others, raising concern among health officials and Americans. However that may have also been in part because last year's flu season was considerably mild.
The CDC continues to urge high-risk people, including those who are 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions, to seek antiviral flu treatment quickly if they develop flu symptoms. Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza can reduce symptoms and help prevent hospitalization, according to the agency.
Finelli added to USA Today that seniors may not get a fever when they develop flu, unlike younger people.
"The elderly need to be aware that they don't necessarily get a fever when they get influenza. So when seniors have a cough, body and muscle aches or headaches and they just feel really knocked out, they need to call their doctors and get in and get treated," Finelli said.