The latest influenza figures from the Minnesota Department of Health suggest this severe flu season might have peaked.

Hospitalizations in the state declined for the second straight week; only 49 patients with confirmed flu cases were admitted to Minnesota hospitals in the week ending Jan. 10, compared with nearly 400 the week before Christmas. And even with school back in session, only six school-related outbreaks of flu-like illness were reported for last week, compared to 281 the week before the holiday break.

Outbreaks in Minnesota remained higher in long-term care facilities — a particular concern because the circulating H3N2 strain of influenza also has historically been associated with more severe illnesses in young children. Suspected outbreaks were reported by 31 such facilities last week.

Even a weakened vaccine might have helped stem the early start to this year's influenza season, protecting a minority of people for whom it was effective and also protecting infants who were too young to be vaccinated, said Patsy Stinchfield, an infectious disease expert with Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, and an advisory on vaccine matters to the CDC.

"Influenza vaccine is still one of the best tools that we have to protect the community," she said. "I just wonder where we would be if we hadn't started vaccinating so many people back in October."