Flu bug still making the roundsFlu season has been slow so far this year, but the disease hasn’t peaked yet, public health experts say.
By: Susanne Nadeau, Grand Forks Herald
Flu season has been slow so far this year, but the disease hasn’t peaked yet, public health experts say.
There’s been less flu activity this year in Minnesota compared with previous years, but the number of cases is increasing, said Karen Martin, epidemiologist with the state health department.
“It’s definitely a later season,” she said. “It’s also hard to say if we’re peaking now or if we’ll still be in the upswing for the next few weeks.”
In North Dakota, the disease appears to be on an upward trend, too, according to Michelle Feist, an epidemiologist with the state health department.
The season usually runs from November to May and peak in February, they said. But peaks also occur in March or April, they said.
There have been 245 confirmed cases in North Dakota, Feist said.
In Grand Forks in January and February, 29 of 345 people tested had the flu, said Dr. James Hargreaves, an epidemiologist with Grand Forks Public Health and an infectious disease doctor at Altru Health System. He doesn’t consider that a significant number of flu cases.
In northwest Minnesota, including Polk, Red Lake, Pennington, Roseau, Marshall and Clearwater counties, there have been 34 positive cases out 142 people tested the week of Feb. 8 to 14, Martin said.
Once influenza hits an area, it takes about eight to 10 weeks for the disease to run its course, then it goes away until next season, Hargreaves said.
“I expect we’ll be having much higher numbers than this, whether that happens in March or maybe even late April, who knows? You can’t predict what’s going to happen,” he said.
Younger people seem to be getting the disease more so far this year, he said. “It kind of makes sense; they probably haven’t gotten the flu vaccine.”
A flu shot can be the difference between life and death, according to Hargreaves.
“There are 36,000 to 40,000 deaths a year from influenza, every year nationwide,” he said. “It’s a very risky decision today to not get vaccinated — the data is overwhelming of how protective it is. Of course, it’s not 100 percent effective, but when you do get symptoms, you tend to be less sick.”
Feist said it’s not too late to be vaccinated. “Flu season typically runs into May, so there is a lot of season left. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, there’s still tons and tons of season left.”
A vaccination typically protects against several types of influenza. The vaccine distributed in North Dakota protects against two Type A influenza strains and one Type B influenza strain, Feist said.
Both influenza Type A and Type B have been reported this season, she said.
“Type A tends to be a little more severe than Type B,” Feist added, saying the two types are essentially the same as far as symptoms, just different types of the same virus.
Reach Nadeau at (701) 780-1118; (800) 477-6572, ext. 118; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.