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Flu Activity Still High: How Long Will it Last?

flu, flu shot, vaccine, flu pandemic
(Image credit: Laura R. Zambuto, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Most of the country is seeing elevated levels of flu, a trend that may continue for several weeks, according to a new report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As of Jan. 5, 47 states were reporting widespread flu activity, meaning more than 50 percent of regions in those states are experiencing flu, the CDC said. That's up from 41 states the week before. [What You Can Do About the Raging Flu.]

However, flu activity did appear to be declining in some parts of the country, such as the South and Southwest.

Only time will tell whether flu activity in these areas of the country has reached a peak, and will start to decline, or whether visits to the doctor for flu-related symptoms will spike again in the coming weeks. The latest numbers from the CDC are from the last week of December, a time when doctors' visits might have decreased due to the holiday season, said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC.

Nationally, the percentage of people visiting the doctor for flulike illness was 4.3 percent, down from 5.6 percent the week before, but above the level of flu activity typically seen during the summer months.

Twenty-four states are reporting high levels of flu activity — down from 29 states the previous week —  and 16 states are reporting moderate levels.

Flu season is unpredictable, so it's not clear how much longer it will last, but typically, flu activity remains high for 12 weeks before peaking. So far this season, flu activity has remained elevated for five consecutive weeks.

This year's flu vaccine is moderately effective at protecting against the flu, the CDC said. People who have been vaccinated are 62 percent less likely to visit the doctor for the flu than those who have not been vaccinated, Frieden said. This level of effectiveness is what researchers would expect in a year when the flu strains in the vaccine are closely matched to the strains in circulation.

While the flu vaccine is not perfect, it is the best tool we have to protect against the flu, Frieden said.

Vaccine shortages have been reported in some areas, and people who want to get vaccinated now may have to call or visit several places to find out where the vaccine is available, Frieden said.

Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone ages 6 months and older.

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Rachael Rettner
Rachael has been with Live Science since 2010. She has a masters degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.