Flu cases fall for the first time this awful influenza season

Flu activity is on the decrease for the first time in this fierce flu season, suggesting that the worst may be over, according to a federal health report released Friday.

But the intensity of illness caused by the respiratory virus, the worst  since the swine flu pandemic of 2009-2010, continues to take its toll. Another 13 child deaths were reported for the week ending last Saturday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That brings the total to at least 97 pediatric deaths since October.

The CDC relies on several tracking and reporting systems to gauge the severity of seasonal flu, with one of the earliest indicators being the percentage of doctor visits for flu symptoms. That measure dropped significantly last week, the first such decline of the season. About 6.4 percent of all doctor visits were for fever, cough and other symptoms — down from 7.5 percent from the previous week.

CDC officials typically wait to see two consecutive weeks of decline before declaring that a flu season has peaked. But officials said Friday that the latest data suggest this season’s peak may have already occurred.

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