The worst of the flu season appears to be over.
The number of states reporting intense or widespread illnesses dropped again this past week, and in a few states there was very little flu going around, U.S. health officials said Friday.
The season started earlier than normal, first in the Southeast and then spreading. But now, by some measures, flu activity has been ebbing for at least four weeks in much of the country. Flu and pneumonia deaths also dropped the past two weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
But CDC spokesman Tom Skinner and others stressed that flu is hard to predict, and there have been spikes late in the season in the past.
In early December, CDC officials said flu season had arrived, a month earlier than usual. They were worried, saying it had been nine years since a winter flu season started like this one. That was 2003-04 — one of the deadliest seasons in the past 35 years, with more than 48,000 deaths.
Like this year, the major flu strain was one that tends to make people sicker, especially the elderly.
But back then, that year's flu vaccine wasn't made to protect against that bug, and fewer people got flu shots. The CDC has said this year's vaccine is a good match to the strains that are circulating. A preliminary CDC study showed it is about 60 percent effective, which is close to the average.
On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season.