CDC: Flu has killed 93 children in the U.S., but outbreak may be waning

Friday, January 9th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ The nation's flu outbreak has killed 93 children so far this season but appears to be on the decline, federal health officials said Thursday.

The government said flu is now widespread in 38 states, down from 42 last month. Colorado, which was one of the first states hit hard, dropped from the list of those with the worst outbreaks.

``We are cautiously optimistic that, at least in some parts of the country, influenza may have peaked,'' said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ``But there is still plenty of flu out there.''

The flu season in the United States got off to an unusually early and harsh start, raising fears that this could be one of the deadliest seasons in years, especially among children.

But Gerberding said there is not enough data from previous years to determine whether 93 child deaths are worse than usual.

About 92 children under 5 typically die each flu season, according to the CDC. But the agency does not keep figures on older children. Only 55 of this season's 93 flu deaths were children under 5, the CDC said.

Health officials are compiling data to determine whether flu shot recommendations should be changed to include older children, said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

``Most of us are convinced already this was a hard flu season on children,'' said Schaffner, a flu expert. ``We're trying to get precise about that and to measure the impact.''

Forty-one children who died this season had no previous medical problems that can make the flu more dangerous, but 35 others had chronic medical conditions, according to the CDC. The medical history for 17 children was unknown.

The CDC also said that, for the first time this season, health care visits for flu-like illnesses have dropped nationally. Such illnesses accounted for 8.8 percent of all outpatient visits for the week ending Dec. 27 and 6.2 percent for the week ending Jan. 3.

Still, Gerberding warned: ``We are not done with flu season yet. It's a long way between where we are at the beginning of January and what usually is the end of flu season.''

Health experts said a second wave of flu could occur in some communities. The season typically peaks between December and February.