We may finally have some good news about flu. The latest state reports, posted on Wednesday, show a downward trend in flu cases in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
"It is likely the influenza activity has peaked," the Pennsylvania Department of Health said. But it swiftly hedged its bet, adding, "It's not uncommon for there to be a second wave of influenza B activity during an influenza season." Influenza B is a type of flu virus that typically emerges later in a season. It is currently supplanting a type of influenza A known as H3N2 that has made life miserable for thousands this year.
The New Jersey Department of Health was more cautious. Tina Tan, state epidemiologist, said there are signs of declining activity, but influenza B cases are increasing. She warned against "a false sense of security."
This region was slower than some parts of the country this season to feel the full brunt of flu. Flu activity is declining in the western United States, but remains high in most of the east. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that the season might have peaked. There likely will still be flu around, though, into April.
One likely reason this year's season has sickened an unusually high number of people is that the flu vaccine has not worked well against the dominant H3N2 flu strain. A report released in February found that the vaccine prevented illnesses severe enough to require medical attention only 25 percent of the time. But it was 42 percent effective against influenza B, which is on the rise.
This week's New Jersey report found high flu activity throughout the state, but there were hopeful signs. The percentage of emergency department visits due to influenza-like illness fell sharply for the first time this season. The percentage of emergency department patients admitted to hospitals with flu symptoms fell for the second week in a row. School absenteeism fell slightly, but cases of flulike illness in long-term care facilities rose.
Flu remained widespread in Pennsylvania, but the health department said data from laboratories, emergency departments and other medical providers all showed a decrease in flu activity. The number of reported cases and the percentage of emergency visits for flulike symptoms dropped for the second week in a row.