The flu is on its way out.
While still at epidemic levels, the historically bad 2017-2018 season has finally started to subside. After appearing to plateau last week, visits to the doctor and deaths caused by the flu decreased for the second week in a row.
A predominant strain with uncommon resilience combined with an ineffective vaccine have made this season a catastrophic one. Hospitalization rates hit new highs, and the level of influenza-like illness reported around early February was as high as at the peak of the 2009 swine flu epidemic.
However, an epidemic that appeared to be without end looks like it could be winding down.
Deaths caused by pneumonia and influenza fell to 9.5 percent of all fatalities across the country during the week ended Feb. 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data.
The current death toll is affected by an accounting delay, and the mortality rate based on the final data will be higher. Nevertheless, the current rate, while more than two percentage points above the epidemic threshold, is still down from the seasonal high of more than 10 percent.
Hospitals, meanwhile, are seeing a slowdown in the number of visitors. At the height of the outbreak, waiting rooms were packed at healthcare facilities across the country.
The proportion of visits to the doctor for flu-like symptoms also dipped to 6.4 percent of medical appointments for the week ended Feb. 17, according to the CDC. That’s down from a peak of 7.7 percent for the week ended Feb. 3.
However, the awful implications of this flu season continue to be felt. Thirteen more pediatric deaths associated with the flu were reported last week, bringing the total to 97.