"We expect to see is a lot of cases and then as people get complications of flu or become more ill after the cases peak, then comes the hospitalization and death peak," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, told reporters in a telephone news conference Friday. "So we do see those coming in waves and that's why we're really emphasizing the importance of prompt treatment of flu. Remember, even when you're halfway through the season that means you've still got half of the season left. It doesn't mean the season's over."
Health officials say it is very important for people with flu symptoms to see healthcare providers immediately if they are older, young children or people with underlying health problems.
"What we're seeing is not as many people as we would like who are in those categories are getting treated with Tamiflu," Frieden said. "That's important because Tamiflu can reduce the likelihood of hospitalization, severe illness or death."
Hospitalization rates increased sharply in people age 65 and over in each of the past two weeks.
Seasonal influenza always takes the heaviest toll on seniors when it comes to deaths, particularly during seasons when H3N2 is the predominant strain -- as it is this year.
"In general, we estimate that about 90 percent of flu-related deaths are in people 65 and older," Frieden said. "I'm also saddened to report there were another nine pediatric deaths reported this past week, bringing the total this season to 29 -- well below the 153 deaths reported in the 2003/2004 season which was another H3N2 season."