Health officials say flu cases declining

Widespread activity down to 5 states, from 45 in Dec.

January 23, 2004|By Robyn Suriano | Robyn Suriano,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Flu season is waning considerably nationwide, health officials said yesterday, but they also warned that a resurgence is always possible with the unpredictable virus.

Just five states were experiencing widespread flu activity as of Saturday, down from a high of 45 states last month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The lingering trouble spots are Delaware, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

Doctors say people in high-risk groups for serious complications from the virus would benefit from getting a shot.

Those in greatest danger include children between the ages of six months and 23 months; people older than 50 years old; anyone suffering from a chronic condition such as diabetes; and pregnant women in their second or third trimester.

Federal health officials said it's too early to draw conclusions about this flu season, though its early ferocity and widely publicized deaths of children greatly increased the demand for flu vaccine.

In a typical year, the CDC estimates, the flu causes 36,000 deaths and 100,000 hospitalizations nationwide.

States have reported 111 flu-related deaths in children younger than 18, with Colorado and Texas having the highest number at 12 deaths each.

But now that the virus appears to be waning, it's not clear whether the flu was more severe this season or not.

Flu season typically runs through March.

"I would say that it certainly looks as if activity has peaked, and we're on the downward slope of this year's" outbreak, said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the CDC in Atlanta. "However, we need to understand that we still have a couple of months left in the season, and it certainly wouldn't be surprising to see a resurgence in some areas of the country."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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