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Flu rate falling, but epidemic still claiming kids' lives

by Bill Briggs / / Source: TODAY

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The rate of flu cases has decreased nationally for the third straight week, but the annual outbreak has killed at least six more children, CDC officials said Friday.

This flu season now has caused at least 86 pediatric deaths — the latest number reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At this point last year, there were 50 pediatric deaths.

"The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) was above the epidemic threshold," the CDC said its new report.

Overall, flu cases remain "widespread" in 30 states, which is two fewer states compared to the previous week's assessment, CDC officials said.

The outbreak continues to strike elderly Americans especially hard as well. Three weeks ago, the flu-related hospitalization rate for people 65 and older hit the highest mark since the CDC began tracking that information in 2005. It has continued to climb higher, federal figures show.

To reduce your chances of contracting flu, you can take several simple steps, including washing your hands with soap and water while singing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.

The flu vaccine administered this season was not a good match for major flu strains circulating this year. Still, the shot does protect against some of the strains. And experts say even if you get infected, having been vaccinated can reduce the severity of illness.

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