NEW YORK — The worst of the flu season appears to be over.
The number of states reporting intense or widespread flu dropped again last week, U.S. health officials said Friday.
The season started earlier than normal, spiking first in the Southeast and then spreading. But now, by some measures, flu activity has been ebbing for at least four weeks in much of the country. Flu and pneumonia deaths have been dropping for two weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
"It's likely that the worst of the current flu season is over," CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said in an email.
It's been nine years since a conventional flu season started like this one. That was the winter of 2003-04 — one of the deadliest in the past 35 years, with more than 48,000 deaths. Like this year, that season had the same dominant flu strain, one that tends to make people sicker.
But back then, the flu vaccine didn't protect against that bug, and fewer people got flu shots. The vaccine is reformulated each year, and the CDC has said this year's vaccine is a good match to the types that are circulating. A preliminary CDC study showed this year's version is about 60 percent effective.
So far, the season has been labeled moderately severe.
The government does not keep a running tally of flu-related deaths in adults, but has received reports of 59 such deaths in children. The most — nine — were in Texas, where flu activity was still high last week.
On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the CDC.
Flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months or older.