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Expand chart
Data: Centers for Disease Control; Chart: Axios Visuals

The flu season may have peaked a couple weeks ago, but infection rates remain elevated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also announced another 13 reported influenza-associated deaths in children during the week ending Feb. 17, raising the total to 97 pediatric deaths so far this season.

"It looks like influenza-like-illness has peaked for the 2017-2018 season, but flu activity remains high and there are several more weeks of flu activity to come."
— CDC spokesman Ian Branam tells Axios

By the numbers, for the week ending Feb. 17, per CDC :

  • The CDC bases its flu estimates on the percentage of people going to see a doctor for an influenza-like illness (ILI). For the week ending Feb. 17, that rate was 6.4%, which is lower than the previous week (7.5%). The peak appears to have occurred the week ending Feb. 3, when the rate hit 7.7%.
  • In patients testing positive for influenza, 65% had Influenza Type A (roughly three-fourths of those had the more serious H3N2 strain) and 35% had Influenza Type B.
  • Widespread influenza activity was reported by Puerto Rico and all states, except for Hawaii and Oregon which, along with D.C. and Guam, shows local influenza activity. No influenza was reported by the U.S. Virgin Islands.

How the CDC forecasts the flu: Matthew Biggerstaff, epidemiologist in CDC's influenza division, tells Axios the CDC started a competition five years ago for non-government institutions to predict the flu season. The teams are given a set of targets they need to track for the challenge.

  • This year more than 20 different groups are tracking at least 30 different forecasts, which needs to include CDC's ILI data for comparison.
  • Each group is voluntary and uses their own grants or other funding to pay for their forecasting.

Private sector viewpoint: One of the competitors in the challenge, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, says they've found social media to be helpful in their forecasting — although they still conduct one forecast using traditional methods and one that adds social media input (this year, they are using Google health trends).

For this year, David Osthus, leader of the LANL's forecasting team, says their short-term forecast for the peak week was: 40% Feb. 3, 40% Feb. 10, and 10% Feb. 17. "Looks like the forecast was correct," he says.

Why forecasts are needed: Biggerstaff says forecasting is important to get the vaccination message out on time, to help hospitals and clinics manage their staffing needs and medicine distribution, and to decide possible school closures.

Separately, there have been some updates on the research front:

  • Fortune reports that Japan fast-tracked its approval of new antiviral drug Xofluza, which is said to kill the flu virus in just one day. It has not yet been approved in the U.S.
  • The Wall Street Journal says new Food and Drug Administration regulations have started to improve the quality of flu testing.

Go deeper

Cuomo: "I am not going to resign"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologized Wednesday for acting in a way that made women feel "uncomfortable," but insisted that he has "never touched anyone inappropriately" and said he will not resign.

Driving the news: Cuomo reiterated in his first public appearance since sexual harassment allegations surfaced that he will fully cooperate with a team of independent investigators appointed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, but suggested that demands for his resignation from were simply "politics."

Facebook to lift political ad ban imposed after November election

Photo Illustration by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook will finally allow advertisers to resume running political and social issue ads in the U.S. on Thursday, according to a company update.

The big picture: Facebook and rival Google instituted political ad bans to slow the spread of misinformation and curb confusion around the presidential election and its aftermath.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
51 mins ago - Technology

AI is industrializing

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Artificial intelligence is becoming a true industry, with all the pluses and minuses that entails, according to a sweeping new report.

Why it matters: AI is now in nearly every area of business, with the pandemic pushing even more investment in drug design and medicine. But as the technology matures, challenges around ethics and diversity grow.