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Flu Season Doctor Visits Reached Record at Early Peak

Patients visited outpatient clinics for flu-like illnesses at one of the highest recorded rates during the peak of last season, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported today.

The 2012-2013 flu season peaked early in late December and was “moderately severe,” the CDC said in its latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. One hundred and ninety-one of every 100,000 people over 65 were hospitalized, two and a half times the previous highest rate for the age group. Influenza and pneumonia deaths exceeded the epidemic threshold for 13 consecutive weeks from the end of December through March.

The severe flu season boosted sales of drugs and sickness aids. Kimberly-Clark Corp. rose the most in more than three years in April after revenue from its Kleenex tissue-brand products helped drive a record first-quarter profit. Sales of Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu antiviral drug gained 84 percent during the first quarter. CVS Caremark Corp. beat analysts’ estimates in the quarter and increased profit 23 percent to $956 million from a year earlier on demand for flu medications.

At the season’s peak, 6.1 percent of outpatient hospital visits were for flu-like symptoms, among the largest proportions since the CDC’s current reporting system began in 1997. In past seasons, this percentage ranged from 2.4 percent in 2011-12 to 7.7 percent during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.

Influenza normally causes symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, headaches and body aches, fever, chills, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Severe cases of flu are often seen in very young and very old people whose immune systems are too weak to fight off the virus, and annual vaccination is recommended for vulnerable people and those who come into contact with them.

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