Spring is just around the corner, but flu season isn’t over.

The number of flu cases may not have peaked yet, says the CDC’s latest flu report.

According to the CDC, influenza activity has increased steadily in the U.S. since late December and had not peaked by Feb. 19.

The peak is usually sometime between December and March. In 16 out of the last 27 flu seasons, the peak hasn’t come until February or later, says the CDC.

When Flu Strikes

If you come down with the flu, see your doctor. Antiviral medications such as Tamiflu (search) can shorten the flu by about a day or two in healthy adults when taken within 48 hours of the start of symptoms, says the CDC.

Take particular care of kids, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions, who can be more vulnerable to flu complications. “Numerous [flu] outbreaks have been reported in long-term care facilities and among schoolchildren,” says the CDC report.

During last year’s flu season, 153 children in 40 states died of flu. So far, nine children have died of flu this season, with all of those deaths occurring in January or February. That number will probably rise before flu season ends, predicts the CDC.

Tips for Preventing the Flu

The CDC offers these tips to steer clear of the flu:

--Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

--Wash your hands often, especially after you cough or sneeze.

--If soap and water aren’t handy, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.

--Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

--If you get the flu, stay home from work or school so you don’t spread the flu to other people.

After shortages of flu shots (search) last year, flu season got off to a slow start. From October through mid-December, U.S. flu activity was low. But cases rose steadily in January and February and have been reported in all 50 states, says the CDC.

Since early October 2004, 38 states and New York City had reported widespread flu activity lasting at least one week in at least half the regions of the state.

At the CDC’s last check on Feb. 19, flu activity was widespread in 33 states and regional in 15 states.

The CDC also tracks which flu viruses have shown up. Both influenza A and B viruses have been reported this year, but since October most cases have been influenza A viruses. Of the more than 11,000 flu cases identified, almost 85% have been influenza A viruses. The influenza A (H3N2) virus accounts for most of those cases.

The numbers appear in the CDC’s March 4 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 4, 2005; vol 54: pp 193-196. CDC, “Key Facts About The Flu: How to Prevent the Flu and What To Do If You Get Sick.”