In an encouraging sign, four states dropped off the government’s list of those reporting widespread flu activity — leaving 38 states and Washington, D.C., in that category.
Although CDC chief Dr. Julie Gerberding said the agency was “cautiously optimistic” that the worst of this flu season may be over, she cautioned that the flu is unpredictable and that another strain could emerge later in the season.
“We are not done with flu season yet,” she warned. “It’s a long way between where we are at the beginning of January and what usually is the end of flu season.”
The CDC also reported that health care visits for flu-like illnesses dropped nationally for the first time this season — falling to 6.2 percent of total office visits.
The agency said that in the last few months the flu has killed 55 children under 5 years and a total of 93 who are under 18. Typically, 92 children under 5 die of the flu each season.
Of the total number of children who died of flu this season, 41 had no previous medical problems, but 35 others had chronic medical conditions, according to the CDC. The medical history of 17 children was unknown.
Health officials were compiling data to determine whether flu shot recommendations should be changed to include older children, Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center told the Associated Press.
“Most of us are convinced already this was a hard flu season on children,” said Schaffner, a flu expert. “We’re trying to get precise about that and to measure the impact.”
The number of overall deaths due to flu and other illnesses that cause pneumonia did reach epidemic proportions this season, something Gerberding told reporters was not uncommon. In a typical year, about 36,000 people die from the flu.
Gerberding also said that local flu vaccine shortages continue, with some regions lacking the pediatric version of the vaccine. She said the “good news” was that many doses of the nasal vaccine spray FluMist remain available, but that it is only approved for use by healthy people between the ages of 5 and 49 years.