Flu-like illness in U.S. reaches 2009 pandemic levels

A patient gets a shot during a flu vaccine program in Calgary on Oct. 26 2009

A patient gets a shot during a flu vaccine program in Calgary on Oct. 26 2009

It's an early prediction, but flu season could drag on until May, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, 10 more flu-related deaths were reported in children as of the week ending February 3, bringing the total number of children who have died of flu-related causes to 63 for the season, which began in October.

While the nation grapples with the worst flu season in almost a decade, the bug is seemingly losing momentum across Washington state.

"Overall, hospitalizations are significantly higher than what we've seen [in the past] for this time of year", Schuchat said.

Unless experiencing a medical crisis, people feeling flu-like symptoms, ranging from a sore throat to body aches, should contact their doctor's office via a nurse-consultation line before seeking help at a hospital to avoid overwhelming emergency rooms, Hawkins said.

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Since 2007, the earliest year of available state data, MA has seen higher rates of reports of flu-like illnesses during only one other stretch: the height of the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

The flu has further tightened its grip on the U.S. This season is now as bad as the swine flu epidemic nine years ago.

Officials say it's possible that we could see several more weeks of increased fu activity before the epidemic finally starts to wane.

In the weekly report, however, the CDC revealed that levels of H3N2 appear to be dropping.

While the H3N2 continues to dominate this season, there are increasing cases of B viruses and the H1N1 strains. Scientists are studying circulating viruses to see if anything unusual is going on, Schuchat said.

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The state Health Department announced it is providing more money to county health departments to beef up efforts to promote and increase access to flu shots.

The total number of flu deaths among people under 65 in California varies widely from season to season, but it typically hovers around 100. It's unknown if those victims had gotten a flu shot or not.

"When you look at the statewide numbers there's been a lot of deaths and if people don't get out and get protection those numbers will rise".

Ross' vaccine is 90 percent to 95 percent effective in animal trials, he said, compared with about 30 percent for this year's human flu vaccine. Sick people should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

Downes also recommended washing one's hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub for at least 20 seconds and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may, through habitual use, come into contact with an infected person.

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