This winter's flu season looks to be milder than last year's record breaking season, according to early numbers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday that approximately 7 million flu cases occurred between Oct. 1 and Jan. 5, sparking more than 3 million medical visits and up to 84,000 hospitalizations. So far, 16 children have died from flu this season.
The number of hospitalizations reported so far this season is not on pace to reach last year's flu season, when more than 50 million cases led to more than 960,000 hospitalizations and 80,000 deaths.
It's too early to tell how severe the 2018-2019 season will be, the CDC warned. The peak time—February—is still a month away. But severity indicators this season are lower than they were during a similar timeframe last season.
According to the CDC, the overall hospitalization rate is 9.1 per 100,000. Between Oct. 1, 2017 and Jan. 6, 2018, the rate was 22.7 per 100,000 residents.
This year's season could be milder because the predominant strain—H1N1—is normally associated with being a less severe form of the virus than the H3N2 strain, which was the dominant strain during the 2017-2018 season.
This is the first season where the CDC has evaluated the flu's health burden while it's in progress. The agency is using the same model that is typically used for end-of-season estimates. Those reports are usually released in September as a precursor for the next flu season.
The CDC releases weekly information on flu activity, but those don't include exact case counts. Instead, they provide cumulative information on flu's impact over the season as data are collected through a surveillance network that covers approximately 8.5% of the U.S. population, or roughly 27 million people.
CDC spokesman Janson McDonald said the report is meant to give the American public "some sense of the health burden brought by influenza."
Some providers have said the reports could be a valuable tool for hospitals as they try to gauge what impact the virus may have on their resources.
"It's really nice to have a more detailed account of the activity so far," said Dr. Jeannie Moorjani, a pediatrician at Orland Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.