Flu season nearing peak; CDC calls it a mild one, plenty of vaccine still available.

Thursday, January 31st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ The U.S. flu season is nearing its peak, with a rising number of cases in the past several weeks, the government said Thursday.

About 14 percent of the specimens sent to a nationwide network of labs tested positive for influenza in mid-January, up from 4 percent in early December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The figure usually rises to at least 25 percent before flu season peaks, usually in February or March.

The good news is that 10 million doses of flu vaccine are still available in the United States. The CDC is urging health care providers to offer them through February, especially to the elderly and chronically ill.

This year's vaccine fights well against the predominant strain of the bug circulating this season, the CDC said.

At the height of the anthrax attacks last fall, some doctors worried about a crush of people seeking flu vaccine and visiting hospitals so they would be able to quickly distinguish between flu and anthrax.

But the rush never came, probably the anthrax attacks stopped several months ago and because this flu season is a mild one, CDC flu expert Dr. Tim Uyeki said.

Flu kills as many as 20,000 Americans each year. The CDC judges the severity of a flu season based on reports from doctors and labs across the country and records from 122 U.S. cities.

The last two years have seen early flu peaks, a problem compounded by shortages of vaccine and delays in its delivery. This year's pattern is much more normal, Uyeki said.