Health and Science

Flu Update: Are We Near the Peak?

Flu-Related Doctor Visits Drop

The flu remains well above epidemic levels nationally, with 48 states reporting widespread flu activity in the week ended Jan. 11, the Centers for Disease Control said Friday, but in some areas flu levels are coming down.

The CDC reported the total number of flu-related pediatric deaths for the current season climbed to 29, from 20 in the previous week, and hospitalizations also rose.

In a sign the season may be close to a peak, the national rate of flu-related doctor visits was lower for the second straight week. The proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness, or ILI, fell from 6 percent in the week that included Christmas to 4.6 percent in the latest report.

"We don't yet know whether we are over the peak," CDC Director Mike Frieden cautioned reporters during last week's update, saying that some states had been slow to report data during the holidays.

(Read More: Will Flu Season Impact Insurer Costs?)

But with two straight weeks of lower ILI, some analysts believe the trend looks clearer now.

A man is given a flu shot by at the medical offices of Yaffe Ruden & Associates in New York.
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images

"If it's down two weeks in a row, I think there is a good chance it's already peaked," said Leerink Swann health care analyst Jason Gurda, who's been tracking the numbers. The peak in flu could also mean a more muted impact on medical costs for hospitals and insurers in the current quarter.

"At this point, I am not expecting a big impact on my health care service companies," he said.

New Tamiflu, Vaccine Supplies

Swiss drugmaker Roche AG said U.S. regulators will allow the company's Genentech unite to tap into its reserve supplies of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu in order to meet the elevated demand for the influenza treatment. The company said it received FDA clearance to release stock of adult dose 75 milligram Tamiflu capsules which carry different packaging from what it currently sold in the U.S. market.

(Read More: Major Flu Outbreak Threatens to Slow Economy Further)

"With the addition of these reserve supplies, we anticipate having sufficient supply of Tamiflu capsules to meet demand for this flu season," said spokesperson Tara Iannuccillo, but she added that that spot shortages of the liquid version of the drug used to treat children continue.

Vaccine providers have also been caught short, trying to meet the late-season surge in demand for flu shots.

Drugstore chain Rite Aid said Thursday that it had secured 400,000 additional doses of seasonal flu shots that it would deploy to areas based on current or anticipated high flu activity. The chain said to date it had administered more than 2 million doses of vaccines this flu season.

Even if the flu is near peak, JPMorgan analyst Lisa Gill expects the demand for vaccinations and other flu-related items have already provided a boosts for the two largest drug store chains, Walgreen and CVS Caremark.

"The vaccine business has been nicely incremental for both Walgreen as well as CVS," she said, adding "they make nice margins on administrating flu vaccines."

You can read the CDC's weekly flu update here.