By KAREN KAPLAN
Another influenza season is in the books, and overall it caused less sickness and death than flu seasons in the recent past, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Between Sept. 29, 2013, and May 17, 2014, a total of 53,471 specimens sent to U.S. labs tested positive for a flu virus. Among them, 87% were influenza A viruses, and the most common of these were versions of the H1N1 virus that prompted the swine flu epidemic in 2009. The other 13% of the confirmed specimens were influenza B viruses.
The CDC findings, which were published Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, did not estimate a total number of flu deaths for the 2013-14 flu season. But based on records kept by doctors and hospitals, researchers concluded that flu activity in the last year resulted in “lower levels of outpatient illness and mortality” compared with years when the predominant strains were versions of the H3N2 virus.
At least 96 children died of the flu in the last year, laboratory tests confirmed. Those deaths were reported in 30 states, New York City and Chicago. In about half of these cases, the patients had at least one preexisting condition, such as a neurologic disorder or a pulmonary disease, that may have made them more vulnerable to the flu.
The most striking statistic in the report is the rate of hospitalization among people between the ages of 50 and 64. Over the course of the entire flu season, the cumulative hospitalization rate for these adults was 54.3 per 100,000 people. In the previous four years, that figure has been as low as 8.1 and it never topped 40.6.
The report noted one human case of a H3N2 virus that was first spotted in pigs in 2010 and was identified in a dozen people the following year. The new case was a child from Iowa who had direct contact with pigs. The patient fully recovered, apparently without spreading it to relatives or anyone else, according to the CDC.
The vaccine for the 2014-15 flu season will be based on the same four viruses, the CDC said.