NEW YORK — This winter's nasty flu season has peaked and is clearly retreating, a new government report shows.
"There's a lot of flu season left, but it's clear we're decreasing and that flu season has peaked," said Dr. Michael Jhung of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Flu illnesses were at their highest levels around New Year's Day, Jhung said. The CDC released the new flu numbers Friday.
The flu bug spreading across the nation this winter is a type that tends to hit the elderly especially hard. Worse, the flu vaccine isn't working very well against the strain that is making most people sick.
Health officials have said since last fall that this season would be unusually severe. They proved correct, by at least one measure: Flu-related hospitalizations of the elderly are the highest since the government started tracking them nine years ago.
About 217 out of every 100,000 people 65 and older have been hospitalized with flu-related illness. The previous record was 183 per 100,000 two years ago.
So far, the flu has played a part in the deaths of 80 children. On average, about 100 children die from the flu each year.
Last week, flu was widespread in 32 states, down from 40 the week before. Flu-related doctor's office visits were high in 15 states, down from 26 states the week before.
Among infectious diseases, flu is considered one of the nation's leading killers. CDC estimates 24,000 Americans die each flu season, on average.