US may see early peak to flu season

Early signs suggest flu season may peak early in the U.S. this year, though health experts caution the upcoming holiday season could spur another uptick in activity.

Flu activity typically starts rising in October and peaks between December and February, according to the CDC. This year, flu season started earlier, with flu hospitalizations hitting a 13-year high by the end of October.

Initial figures suggest flu activity may be slowing in the U.S. The CDC reported 31,442 positive flu tests in the week ending Dec. 10, a significant drop from the 43,960 reported a week prior, CDC data shows. The national rate of positive tests has hovered around 25 percent for three weeks. The percentage of outpatient visits for flu-like illness has also fallen for two consecutive weeks, according to the CDC's latest FluView report. In the week ending Dec. 10, 6.9 percent of outpatient visits were for flu-like symptoms, down from 7.56 percent two weeks prior.

However, health experts have cautioned that increased travel and indoor gatherings amid the holiday season could cause figures to rise again. 

"The fact that it started early is hopefully promising for an earlier peak and for it to die down," Krupa Playforth, MD, a Virginia-based pediatrician told NBC Washington. "The complicating factor right now is the holidays. So people are traveling, going all over, gathering with large groups of people, with family. That creates a situation where any infection is more likely to spread."

Five other flu updates:

1. Nine influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported in the week ending on Dec. 16, with a total of 30 pediatric flu deaths in the 2022-2023 season. 

2. So far in the 2022-2023 season, there have been at least 15 million illnesses, 150,000 hospitalizations and 9,300 deaths from the flu. 

3. The cumulative hospitalization rate is higher than the rate observed during this week in every other previous season since the 2010-2011 season.

4. The number of flu hospital admissions has decreased nationally compared to the previous week. 

5. The percentage of outpatient visits for respiratory illnesses was at 6.9 percent this week, which is above the national baseline of 2.5 percent. 

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