The flu season seems to have started earlier than usual. A report Friday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 47 states were reporting widespread influenza activity, up from 41 earlier the week before.
But the report also stated that the flu has begun to subside in some areas, especially in the Southeast, where it first showed up. And doctors' visits for flu have dropped, a CDC spokesman said.
This is typical of a famously unpredictable virus.
"One of the characteristics of flu is that you see lots of geographic differences in the impact and timing of epidemics, so while you might see an outbreak start to go away in one area, it might be just beginning in another area," said Dr. John Treanor, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York. "I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a decline in the number of cases in the Northeast but at the same time see more cases developing in the West."
Marshall said flu activity generally peaks in late January, but it's unclear if this year's early start means the flu also will peak early.
Other factors may be complicating the issue.
For instance, last year's season was relatively mild, which may have "magnified the perception that this year is more severe," Treanor said. Although, he added, this year "is a relatively more severe outbreak than we've seen in the U.S. for several years, so it's probably a combination of both things."
The flu this year isn't necessarily causing more severe illness, at least not across the board.
This year's H3N2 virus is generally characterized by higher rates of illness in older people and correspondingly higher rates of hospital admissions and deaths, Treanor said.
The FDA's Hamburg said, "Although the last year's flu season was relatively mild, this season is turning out to be more severe. On the positive side, th
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