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Officials: Flu on the downswing in city

Chicago's flu season is "winding down" after hitting its likely peak about a month ago, one of the city's top health officials said Friday.

Dr. Julie Morita's statement came amid a fresh batch of flu-tracking data that showed a general decline in the seasonal virus across the city, state and most parts of the country for the week ending Feb. 2.

Morita, the Chicago Department of Public Health's medical director, cautioned that the "risk is still there," pointing out that flu activity is still higher in the city than it was at this point during the past few seasons. Federal health officials have attributed the overall chaotic season to a one-month head start.

During the week ending Feb. 2, just three people were hospitalized with flu-like symptoms in Chicago, according to the city health department. The number of flu-related hospital visits was the lowest it has been since late November and a fraction of what it was at the flu season's apparent height, which Morita pinned at late December or early January.

In Illinois, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified flu activity as "widespread" for the week ending Feb. 2. It was the state's eighth straight week with the designation.

"It's still high, but it's at the low end of high," CDC spokesman Curtis Allen said of Illinois' flu prevalence.

Nationally, the virus hovered at epidemic levels — meaning more than 7.4 percent of all deaths were due to flu-like illness — but decreased almost everywhere in the country during the week ending Feb. 2, according to the latest CDC data.

"It's certainly still out there, but not at all on the scale we saw before," said Dr. Allison Bartlett, associate medical director for infection control at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

The hospital was seeing as many as 50 patients per week testing positive for the flu at the end of December, Bartlett estimated. Now that number is closer to 20.

Morita said she hasn't heard of any flu vaccine shortages in Chicago. As of Feb. 1, the CDC had distributed about 93 percent of its expected supply.


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