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Flu down, not out in Chicago

Health officials see 'leveling off' here and across nation

By Patrick Svitek, Chicago Tribune reporter

6:50 PM EST, January 27, 2013

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Flu activity is declining in most parts of the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

In Chicago, the flu situation is "leveling off" after an early and active start, said Dr. Julie Morita, medical director of the city's health department.

The number of flu-related hospitalizations in Chicago for the week of Jan. 19 was about one-third what it was three weeks earlier, according to the latest data from the department. But it's as high as the peak number of hospital visits last flu season.

"It's not gone," Morita said. "The flu is not gone."

"Nationally, it looks like influenza is leveling off, but some parts of the country are seeing increases," CDC spokesman Curtis Allen said.

As of Jan. 19, the Midwest was among regions that have seen general decreases in influenzalike illness, according to the latest CDC data. The seasonal virus is on the rise in the Southwest and Northwest.

However, the flu remains at epidemic levels nationwide for the third straight week, meaning more than 7.2 percent of all deaths involve influenza or pneumonia.

Forty-seven states, including Illinois, were experiencing "widespread" flu activity as of Jan. 19, the CDC said, down from 48 states a week earlier.

The elderly continue to be the most affected by the virus, making up half of all flu-related hospitalizations since the season started.

psvitek@tribune.com