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CDC: Flu activity decreasing nationwide

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(CNN) — The flu was a big deal at the beginning of January, when nearly all states were reporting widespread influenza activity.

It’s still out there, with elevated levels in most states, and can have serious consequences. But the reported activity of influenza-like illness has decreased nationwide.

The most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released Friday, concludes that “influenza activity remained elevated in the United States, but decreased in most areas” in the week of January 27 to February 2, for which the latest information is available.

In the latest report, 38 states reported widespread influenza activity, down from 42 the week before.

Although the proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness, 3.6%, is still above the national baseline of 2.2%, it is lower than the previous week’s estimate of 4.2%.

The disease is still claiming lives, however.

“The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) was above the epidemic threshold,” the report said.

The number of pediatric deaths from influenza rose by 14, for a total of 59 this season. While that is more than the 34 pediatric deaths for all of last year’s season, it is much lower than the 153 pediatric deaths in the 2003 to 2004 season, which saw a similar H3N2 virus responsible for a lot of illness, for example. Adult deaths due to flu are not tracked by the CDC.

Populations most at risk of serious illness from the flu should see their doctor if they become ill, CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said previously. These include very young children, senior citizens and people with underlying health conditions.

If a patient is short of breath or can’t keep fluids down because of nausea, these are signs of a problem that needs immediate attention, said Dr. David Zich, internal medicine and emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

But most patients should not go to an emergency room, he said. Just get plenty of rest and take painkillers to help with muscle aches, Zich said.

The flu vaccine is about 62% effective, but it’s the best tool available to prevent the illness, health officials say.

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