'We were hoping to have better news' — CDC unsure if flu season has peaked

The portion of Americans hospitalized for influenza now matches levels seen during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, according to the CDC's most recent flu update published Friday.

Last week, the number of people in hospitals with flu-like illness increased from 7.1 percent to 7.7 percent, which matches the highest rate of flu-related hospitalizations recorded in the last 15 years, according to a CDC summary of the flu update. The agency hasn't identified evidence to suggest flu-related hospitalizations are leveling off, Anne Schuchat, MD, acting CDC director, told reporters on a media call Friday.

"We were hoping to have better news," said Dr. Schuchat. "Our latest tracking data indicate that influenza activity is still on the rise overall. In fact, we may be on track to beat some recent records ... flu is incredibly difficult to predict, and we don't know if we have hit the peak yet."

Here are four more insights from the update.

1. The CDC reported 10 new pediatric flu deaths Friday, which brings the pediatric death count to 63 for the current season. This death count is expected to rise as flu season continues.

2. The most frequently identified virus type in positive specimens continued to be influenza A, with a majority of these cases — 88.2 percent — attributable to the H3N2 strain. This strain is associated with more severe illnesses in the elderly and young children. In total, the CDC has identified 124,316 positive influenza A and B specimens for the 2017-18 flu season.

3. Forty-eight U.S. states and Puerto Rico reported widespread flu activity for the week ending Feb 3. Hawaii and Oregon reported regional flu activity; Washington, D.C., and Gaum reported local influenza; and the U.S. Virgin Islands reported sporadic activity for the week.

4. The overall hospitalization rate was 59.9 per 100,000 population for the week ending Feb. 3. The CDC tallied 17,701 laboratory-confirmed flu-associated hospitalizations from Oct. 1 through Feb. 3.

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