ATLANTA — You may want to take a little extra time washing your hands if you’re visiting relatives this Passover and Easter weekend. Doctors are still seeing a number of patients with flu, but the numbers are declining amid an intense flu season.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed four more flu-associated pediatric deaths in the 12th week of the season, bringing the total to 137 since October. Puerto Rico and 16 states were still seeing widespread flu cases during the week ending March 24, the CDC said Friday in its weekly surveillance report.
Caused by viruses, the flu is an infection that makes your nose run, makes it hard to breathe, can cause aches and fever and can sap your strength. Often, it can clear up on its own, but it can be severe and even deadly.
The CDC says 27,438 people were hospitalized with the flu between October 1 and March 24. Those most vulnerable are people over age 65, followed by adults between the ages of 50 and 64 years old. Small children and people with underlying medical conditions like asthma or who are overweight are also vulnerable to an intense case of the flu.
There were 3,943 new confirmed infections for the week ending March 24, bringing the total this season to 254,280.
The states where doctors‘ waiting rooms are still busy with flu cases include Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia and Wisconsin. Regional activity was reported in 22 states. Four states had high outpatient activity, and eight had moderate rates.
Sporadic flu activity was reported by four states: Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi and Vermont.
If you want to escape the flu completely, head to the US Virgin Islands, which was reporting no flu activity at all.
Nationally, about 2.5% of people who went to the doctor had flu-like symptoms in the week ending March 24. That’s above the expected level — just 0.03% higher — but the percentage has gone down from the previous week, when the rate was 2.7%.
Looking at lab evidence, the CDC found a mix of flu strains making the rounds this season, including A strains such as H3N2 and H1N1. The B strains of the virus seem to be showing up more recently, but even those are slowing.
It’s not too late to get a flu shot, if you haven’t. Even if you’ve been sick once this season, because of the variety of viruses, you can still get a different strain.
“The flu continues to decline,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said. “And it’s likely to go below baseline in the next couple of weeks.”