The massive flu outbreak that hit the entire country appears to have peaked both nationwide and locally — but the threat is not over yet.
While the latest summary from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still shows that the flu was “widespread” in 47 states as of the week ending Jan. 19, flu activity is declining in all regions except the west.
In addition, Google.org’s flu project — which tracks flu-related searches to monitor activity — shows activity peaking at around Jan. 6 to 13 and then starting to drop off both nationally and in New Jersey.
Local visits to the hospital for flu-related illnesses also appear to have leveled off, AtlantiCare physician Steve Bushay said.
“We’re still seeing it, but instead of several cases a day we’re seeing one or two,” Bushay said.
AtlantiCare spokeswoman Jennifer Tornetta confirmed that the number of influenza-like illnesses has declined in the emergency departments at the Mainland, Atlantic City and Hammonton campuses.
According to the state Department of Health, emergency visits by patients with flu-like symptoms continued to increase statewide during the week ending Jan. 19, but the number of admissions has peaked and is dropping.
“It’s common, and that’s what we hope for,” Bushay said of the plateau of flu patients. “If it was a prolonged episode, that’s when we’ve got trouble.”
He added the flu season usually peaks — at a much lower level — in early February.
“There’s plenty of time,” Bushay said. “It doesn’t mean there won’t be a second peak later in the year.”
That means that anyone who has not already been vaccinated against the flu shouldn’t take the downturn as a reason to put it off, he said.
For local health departments, providing flu shots is the main line of defense. Lines are still long at the weekday flu clinics in Northfield provided by the Atlantic County Health Department, director Pat Diamond said.
In Cape May County, however, the 400 or so doses the county still had two weeks ago have s dwindled, Health Director Kevin Thomas said.
“We only have about 60 doses of vaccine left,” Thomas said. “We’re giving it out on a first-come, first-served basis, by appointment only.”
The dangers of the flu are clear. The CDC estimates that the virus kills about 24,000 people in an average year. This year is worse than average, according to the CDC.
The flu has been linked to the deaths of four children in New Jersey this season, including a 14-year-old boy in Ocean County.
While he and two other children had conditions that made them more vulnerable to the virus, no other conditions were found in a 14-year-old boy from Union County who died of the flu this month.
Overall, 37 children have died of the flu in the U.S. this season. About 100 children die in an average flu season.
In addition, the CDC reported that there was a spike in hospitalizations and deaths among the elderly last week as well.
There was one other bad sign the CDC released Friday from last week’s numbers: the season’s first flu case resistant to treatment with Tamiflu, a prescription medication to treat the illness, was reported at the end of last week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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