Idaho’s influenza surveillance coordinator heard some unsettling news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a Friday morning conference call.
“We’re all very concerned in public health that it may be a severe year,” said Randi Pedersen, an epidemiologist who monitors flu in Idaho. “Nationally they’re seeing a large number of pediatric deaths.”
Idaho has had 23 flu-related deaths so far. One of the deaths was someone younger than 50, but not a child.
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Last flu season, 72 people died from flu-related illnesses in Idaho, more than triple the average of 23 deaths during each of the previous four flu seasons.
Flu has been considered “widespread” in Idaho since December. North Idaho seems to be getting hit harder than other parts of the state, and about half of the deaths have occurred there, Pedersen said. One school closed for the week because one-third of students were out sick.
Officials with the Boise and West Ada school districts said they aren’t seeing a spike in flu right now.
Cases of students with flu-like symptoms were worse between Thanksgiving and Christmas break, a nursing supervisor with the Boise district said. In the fall, flu shots were offered at 11 West Ada elementary schools, district spokesman Eric Exline said.
There is some good news for those in Idaho who have been immunized. The vaccine seems to very effective for the strain that’s most prevalent in the state right now, A(H3). Across the country, more than 80 percent of cases this season involve a different, nastier strain, H3N2 — the same strain that plagued Australian during its flu season.
Flu peaks vary from season to season in Idaho, though it’s usually January or early February, Pedersen said. Last year, there were two peaks: one at the end of December and the other at the end of January.
It’s unclear whether flu season this year has peaked, so Pedersen is recommending that people who haven’t been immunized get that done. You might still get the flu if you’ve been immunized – but you’re still getting some benefit, Pedersen said.
“It can lessen [flu] severity and likelihood that you will be hospitalized,” she said. Studies have shown that it is effective in reducing chances of death in children.
Other ways to reduce your chances of getting the flu:
▪ Limit your contact with people who are sick.
▪ Frequently wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand rub.
▪ Disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.