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A nasty flu season finally weakens its grip

It looks like we've put the worst of the flu season behind us.

The number of laboratory confirmed influenza cases decreased over the last week for the first time since the illness was categorized as geographically widespread this flu season, state officials reported Thursday.

There were 13,703 laboratory-confirmed flu cases reported to the New York State Health Department, a 25 percent decline statewide compared to the previous week.

The number of hospitalizations and emergency room visits for influenza-like illnesses also continued to decline.

"While the decrease we are seeing in both the number of laboratory confirmed influenza cases and hospitalizations is encouraging news, New Yorkers must continue to be vigilant," Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement.

He also recommended flu vaccine shots and proper personal hygiene, such as hand-washing, to reduce the chance of spreading the virus.

Public health authorities can’t count every case of flu. Instead, they track the spread and level of sickness by other means, such as testing certain patients, and examining reports of visits to outpatient centers and emergency departments for influenza-like illness.

One key measure is the number of flu cases confirmed by laboratory testing per 100,000 people in the population, and this rate dropped in the week ending Feb. 24 across the state.

In Western New York, that rate continued to decline from 92 cases per 100,000 in the week ending Feb. 10 to 89.9 in the week ending Feb. 17 and to 73.8 as of Feb. 24 based on the latest data from the state Health Department.

As of Feb. 24, 101,312 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza have been reported and 18,282 people have been hospitalized with influenza in the state this season. There have been five pediatric influenza-associated deaths, and 16,704 children under the age of 5 have been diagnosed with lab confirmed influenza and 1,224 have been hospitalized. During last year's flu season, there were 12,912 flu-related hospitalizations and eight pediatric deaths in New York.

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