Health & Fitness

Late flu season surprises Idaho health officials

This chart shows reports from Idaho health care providers about the percentage of their patient visits that involve the flu or flu-like illness. This season is in red; it didn’t feature the usual December peak in reports, but trended up in recent weeks.
This chart shows reports from Idaho health care providers about the percentage of their patient visits that involve the flu or flu-like illness. This season is in red; it didn’t feature the usual December peak in reports, but trended up in recent weeks.

If you’ve thought this year’s flu season swept in late, you’re onto something.

Idaho Health and Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan said this is the latest flu season he’s seen in his 15 years working with the department.

Idaho Health and Welfare tips for avoiding the flu: Get a flu shot Stay home from work or school if you get sick Keep away from people who are sick Wash your hands regularly Take care of the basics: get plenty of sleep, drink fluids, eat healthy food and stay active

“As nice weather comes we’ll see people outside more and less people inside where flu can circulate more,” he said.

Because of that, and a particularly effective flu vaccine, health officials didn’t expect flu numbers to jump. At the beginning of March, officials had seen four deaths in Idaho due to the flu virus. But by March 26, that number had shot up to 16, Shanahan said. As mortality data comes in, they expect that number to get even higher, he said.

“There probably will be a few more (deaths) that come in because we’re seeing a later season, but hopefully we won’t accelerate anymore,” he said. “It’s a really unusual season.”

So far, this flu season has still taken a lesser toll on Idaho’s population than the 2014-2015 flu season, in which there were 32 flu-related deaths.

Though temperatures are climbing and it’s already spring, Shanahan urged people to get their flu vaccination if they haven’t already as the virus is still circulating.

Shanahan said officials worry about early flu seasons, but don’t expect the virus to start circulating in the spring.

“We won’t get much of a reprieve here if we get an early (flu season) next year,” he said.

Why did the virus start circulating so late this season? Hard to say, Shanahan said.

“It’s totally unpredictable,” he said.

Erin Fenner: 208-377-6207, @erinfenner

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