Skip to main content

Flu season: Worst may be over

By CNN Staff
updated 1:38 PM EST, Mon February 18, 2013
  • Flu-like illnesses decreased for the third consecutive week, officials say
  • This year's flu season did not reach "pandemic proportions," the CDC director says
  • The FDA warns consumers to beware of fraudulent flu products

(CNN) -- The current flu season, which began early and has been more severe than last year's, is slowing down, health officials say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest flu numbers, released Friday, show "influenza-like illness (ILI) continued to decrease for the third consecutive week. Most regions are showing stable or declining levels of ILI activity again this week."

The 2012-13 flu season began in December -- much earlier than usual. But Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC's director, told a congressional hearing last week it did not reach "pandemic proportions."

Frieden and representatives from the Food and Drug Administration and the Government Accountability Office testified before members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to discuss the flu season and give an update on preparations for next year.

How do you get the flu?
Lab developing long-lasting flu shot
Inside a flu vaccine lab

Your top 10 flu questions answered

An H3N2 flu strain has been the most dominant and has been especially hard on the elderly. Frieden said in the hearing about twice as many elderly people have been hospitalized with flu symptoms than in recent years. That includes the 2007-08 and 2003-04 seasons, which also saw a predominant H3N2 strain.

Five more pediatric deaths were reported during the week of February 9, the date with the latest data available. So far, 64 children have died from the flu this season, a number still lower than 153 reported in the 2003-04 season.

Even though it appears the flu season is nearing its end, people may still contract the flu. Frieden repeated those with flu symptoms -- particularly those who are older or young children -- should see their doctor and, if possible, take the antiviral medications Tamiflu or Relenza to lessen symptoms.

Consumers should beware, however, of products sold over the Internet claiming to cure or prevent the flu, the FDA said last week.

Had a flu shot? You'll be OK -- maybe

The agency has sent warning letters to nine companies it claims were selling such products online. A number of them were "generic Tamiflu" -- which is not approved for use in the United States. Some were supplements not approved by the FDA.

"The letters went to firms marketing these products on their website, but we know some of these products are available in retail stores also," said Gary Coody, the FDA's national health fraud coordinator, said Friday "There are no over-the-counter products approved to prevent, cure and treat the flu, so none of these products are allowed to make these claims."

The agency begins surfing the Internet for such promotions each time a health threat emerges, he said.

"Some of these products arise overnight. We saw it with the avian flu, we saw it with the H1N1 flu in 2009 and we're seeing it now. And of course with the Internet and social media, there's almost immediate access to consumers."

According to Coody, more than 100 warning letters were sent to companies over products, devices and supplements during the H1N1 outbreak.

The companies have 15 days to let the FDA know how they intend to make corrections and bring their products into compliance.

Six have already removed the products from their websites or have made partial or complete corrections to their claims. If no action is taken after 15 days, they could be subject to legal sanctions, product seizure or even criminal prosecution.

Can influenza sorbet relieve your flu symptoms?

Coody has these tips for consumers:

• Beware of online websites selling generic Tamiflu or Relenza. There are no FDA-approved generic versions of these two drugs.

• Beware of products that claim to boost your immunity naturally without a flu shot, claim to be a safe and alternative option to the flu vaccine, claim to prevent you from catching the flu or claim to support your body's natural defenses to fight the flu.

• For information, visit the FDA's health fraud scams website.

CNN's Stacey Welsh, Miriam Falco and Saundra Young contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
Cold & Flu Season
updated 6:43 AM EST, Wed December 31, 2014
Imagine being able to predict when the flu might strike your town, a bit like how meteorologists predict when a storm is heading your way.
updated 11:11 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Scientists are concerned about what they're seeing so far this flu season.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
A respiratory virus called Enterovirus D68 has sent hundreds of children to the hospital. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen explains.
updated 10:02 AM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Parents are concerned about sending their children to school amid fears of enterovirus D68.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
This type of enterovirus is uncommon but not new. We've seen less than 100 cases in the United States since it was identified.
updated 4:50 PM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
What are the symptoms of Enterovirus D68? When should you take your child to the doctor?
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Thu September 5, 2013
Many parents don't realize that the worst asthma day of the year actually occurs in September.
updated 10:41 AM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
As a first-grade teacher, Julie Miller is exposed to a horrifying number of germs on a daily basis.
updated 2:36 PM EST, Fri January 11, 2013
Flu vaccine myths can confuse people trying to decide whether to get a shot. Here are five common myths.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Mon October 14, 2013
Your joints ache, your head feels heavy, you can't stop coughing, you're freezing even as your temperature keeps climbing. What now?
updated 5:59 PM EST, Wed January 9, 2013
What do you need to know when it comes to flu germs? CNN's Lisa Sylvester reports.