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We May Finally Be Turning the Corner on America’s Flu Epidemic

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The influenza outbreak that’s killed thousands of Americans and wreaked havoc on the lives of many more seems to have passed its peak and started a slow retreat.

The number of doctor visits for flu-like symptoms plateaued in the week ended Feb. 10, accounting for 7.5% of medical appointments, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While it’s a good sign that flu activity is starting to level off, it’s a far cry from the precipitous drop in doctor visits typically seen when a busy season starts to come to a close.

(Related: Flu Caused 1 in 10 U.S. Deaths Last Week, and It’s Getting Worse)

The CDC’s national map of influenza activity offers some hope. The agency color-codes the severity of the outbreak using a legend of bright green for states with minimal flu activity, rising to deep red for those inundated by the virus. The map is lightening up in the West, with five states reporting minimal to low flu activity.

The map tracks the unusual pattern of this year’s outbreak, which unexpectedly hit the West first. Most flu seasons start in the Southeast, in states like Florida, then move north and west. Most of the East Coast is still socked in with high flu activity.

The terrible toll of deaths linked to pneumonia and influenza this year may be slowing as well. Mortality levels, while still significantly above epidemic rates, are no longer rising. The two related conditions accounted for 9.8% of all U.S. deaths in the week ended Jan. 27, down from more than 10%.

The caveat is there’s currently a delay in accounting for deaths that have occurred in 2018, perhaps leading to an undercounting. Death rates typically trail influenza severity as infected patients continue to fight the disease.

The bad news on child deaths tied to the outbreak, however, continues. An additional 22 pediatric deaths were reported to the CDC in the past week, bringing the total to 84 children who have died from the virus so far this season.

—With assistance from Ivan Levingston.

— Read U.S. Hospitals Overflow as Flu Epidemic Spreads Unabated on ThinkAdvisor.

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