April 10 (UPI) -- Visits to doctors' offices, clinics and hospitals by people with flu-like symptoms across the country went down for the first time in three weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's weekly FluView report, released Friday.
The report indicates that flu season is in decline, and this week's influenza report is the last full report of the season, the agency said, adding that COVID-19 -- the pandemic coronavirus that causes many symptoms similar to the flu -- may be affecting flu-related statistics.
"The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting healthcare seeking behavior," CDC said in the report. "The number of persons and their reasons for seeking care in the outpatient and emergency department settings is changing. These changes impact data from ILINet in ways that are difficult to differentiate from changes in illness levels."
As a result, the agency said that, starting next week, it will further analyze pneumonia and flu-like data and reports in its weekly COVIDView report.
So far this winter, the CDC estimates that at least 39 million Americans have had the flu, and 410,000 have been hospitalized as a result. In addition, approximately 24,000 people have died from the virus, including 166 children.
Overall, 10 percent of all deaths reported in the United States during the week ending April 4 were attributed to pneumonia and influenza, which is above the CDC's established threshold for an epidemic of 7.1 percent. The agency noted, however, that the rise in this figure is likely linked to COVID-19, which causes pneumonia in severe cases.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, has sickened nearly 500,000 Americans, causing death in more than 16,000, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.
The virus shares many of the same symptoms with flu, which is also a viral infection, including cough, fever and nausea or vomiting -- although it is much more severe and contagious.
The percentage of lab specimens testing positive for the flu nationally dropped from 2.1 percent to 0.8 percent during the week ending April 4. Most of these involved influenza A, and are still treatable in more than 99 percent of cases with currently available prescription antiviral medications.
The percentage of visits to healthcare providers attributed to the flu declined from 5.2 percent to 3.9 percent during the week ending April 4, CDC said.
In addition, the number of states, territories and cities reporting "high" flu activity dropped from 31 to 21 over the same period.
Regions reporting high flu activity during the most recent week included New York City and Washington, D.C. as well as Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
New York City is also bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., with nearly 90,000 confirmed cases and more than 5,000 deaths through Friday morning.