Flu activity is earlier and more active than usual

The numbers might be a bit alarming, but for the most part, it hasn’t been that unusual of a flu season, so far – at least in Bowman and the rest of North Dakota.

By Eddie Hibbs III

Pioneer Publisher & Editor

Posted Jan 17, 2013

As of Monday, 47 registered cases of the flu had been reported in Bowman, according to officials with Southwest Healthcare.

As of Friday, Jan. 11, the number of reported total influenza cases in the state was 1,612, according to the state Department of Health. Four deaths have been attributed in North Dakota so far due to flu-like complications.All four deaths were people over the age of 60.

“Flu activity is earlier than usual in North Dakota, but not abnormal,” according to information released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza may not be “abnormal” in the state, but reported cases are significantly higher than the previous two years. A year ago, only 12 cases of the flu were reported at this time. At the same time two years ago, North Dakota only had 300 flu cases reported.

“It is turning out to be a bad year for the flu,” said Dr. Sherrly Tomboulian, who joined the medical staff at Southwest Healthcare a year ago with her husband, Dr. David Meadows. “It is still not too late to get a flu shot.”

Fortunately for local residents, the flu shot is still available at Southwest Healthcare and other local providers. The CDC also released a new study Friday, Jan. 11 that found this year’s flu vaccine is approximately 62 percent effective.

That means a person who takes the shot is 62 percent less likely to have to be treated for the flu. The vaccine has been about 60 to 70 percent effective at preventing the flu.

Outbreaks of influenza continue to be a problem at longterm care facilities in North Dakota with 23 outbreaks reported at LTC centers. Of the 23 outbreaks, 22 were caused by Influenza A with the other outbreak caused by Influenza B.

The CDC described three types of influenza virus: A, B, and C. Human influenza A and B viruses are seasonal, generally between October and May. Influenza A is the most common, but is broken down into many different subtypes. Of the 1,612 cases reported, 1,325 have been caused by Influenza A and 163 from Influenza B.

“This year we are seeing multiple varieties of flu,” said Dr. Meadows. “Through the end of the year we were mostly seeing Influenza A. Now, we are seeing Influenza B. Flu is highly contagious, a sneeze or cough can spread the flu up to six feet away and once you’ve got it, you can affect others for about a week. So if you have the flu stay away from other people. If you don’t have the flu and you see someone coughing stay away from them. Now that all the holiday parties are done maybe things will settle down a bit.”

Of the reported cases so far in North Dakota, nearly one-third are children under the age of 10. State officials list 509 of the 1,612 flu cases by that age group – 31.57 percent. The breakdown by age group:

Age group Cases

Under 10 509

10 to 19 250

20 to 29 190

30 to 39 186

40 to 49 126

50 to 59 125

60 and Up 226

Reported influenza cases spiked in North Dakota during the last two weeks of December, according to state health officials. The 50th week of 2012 reported one percent of the state’s population reporting flu-like conditions.

A week later, the number climbed to 4.25 percent and the final week of 2012 had a 5.49 percent. The number of reported cases dipped slightly for the first week of 2013, reporting at 5.41 percent.

By raw numbers, the number of confirmed cases in North Dakota last week spiked to 1,612, jumping from 1,077 the week before. So far, in North Dakota 813 females have been reported with the flu while 799 males made the list. Overall, at least 65 confirmed flu-like cases have required hospitalization.

While state flu numbers are up, North Dakotans are in better shape than surrounding areas. The state’s neighbors have been hit much harder by the bug this flu season, according to the CDC. This year’s flu season is shaping up as the worst since 2009 for

Montana with influenza outbreaks occurring in at least half the state. Increases are expected for at least another few weeks. At least one elderly death has been reported in Montana due to flulike complications.

In South Dakota, flu activity is earlier and occurring at higher levels than usual. According to the CDC, nine people have died from flu-related illness – all older than 75.

Minnesota has been hit very hard by the flu with 27 deaths reported, most in elderly patients. On a national level, the flu has hit nearly every corner of the continental United States. The following are impacts on states in a regional proximity to North Dakota:

Michigan health officials claim the flu season this year is worse than previous ones and it isn’t slowing down. The hardest-hit regions are in the southwest, central and southeastern parts of the state. Four Michigan children have died from flu-related illness. At least two children have died in Colorado from flu-related symptoms. There is a shortage of the vaccine in the state, but new shipments are expected later this month.

Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare is reporting eight deaths from flu-related illness – all older adults – and a general increase in the number of patients with flu-like symptoms. One child and two adults have died from flu-like symptoms in Nebraska, according to the CDC. Reported cases are up from a year ago.

Southwestern District Health Unit Executive Officer Sherry L Adams, BA, RS/REHS, CHS V, CDP I reports that in the SW corner of the state ours went from 136 to 209. Numbers show that the flu in North Dakota has not yet peaked. CDC did think that flu may be waning a bit in the southern states, but their activity started about three weeks before ours. I would suspect we still have a few weeks before we actually peak.

Some regions are out/or very short on vaccine. We continue to be holding pretty well in our region for vaccine. We did have some doses of vaccine donated to us from Nabors drilling, so we will be distributing those doses out to other health units that are out. Please continue to encourage your family, staff, friends …to get vaccinated. If you notice the chart below, lots of children under age 10 have been hit hard…another great reason, for parents to also get vaccinated.

I don’t mean to beat this to the ground…but continue to encourage hand washing, staying home when sick, and other influenza etiquette. It really does work J. If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to ask. Sherry can be reached at Office Phone Number 701.483.0171, Cell Number 701.290.8518 and Fax Number 701.483.4097.

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