BEWARE THE BUG: GF public health officials report increase in flu casesAfter a slow start to the 2010-2011 flu season, public health officials locally and at state and national levels report an uptick in January and urge people to be vaccinated, noting that a serious outbreak could still occur this season.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
After a slow start to the 2010-2011 flu season, public health officials locally and at state and national levels report an uptick in January and urge people to be vaccinated, noting that a serious outbreak could still occur this season.
“We haven’t had much of a flu season this year, but that doesn’t mean it won’t change tomorrow,” said Dr. Jim Hargreaves, a specialist in infectious diseases at Altru Health System and Grand Forks health officer.
“Each year is different,” he said. “The year before last, the flu season didn’t really start until April.
“Everyone should get the flu shot except newborns. If you haven’t had your flu shot, you really need to get it.”
The flu vaccine, which protects against all current strains including the H1N1 virus that reached pandemic proportions last year, is available at hospitals and clinics, the Grand Forks County Health Department and at physicians’ offices.
Hargreaves and other public health officials said they had no hard data on how widespread vaccination against the flu has been this season, but they said broad vaccination is the best defense against a serious outbreak.
In one recent season, “our units (at Altru) were packed with young people who never had a flu shot who had this life-threatening disease,” Hargreaves said. “It pushes the medical system to the edge. It’s very hard on the emergency room, and all doctors’ offices are full.”
He said that about 10 positive influenza tests were reported at Altru in the past six weeks or so, and the presence of confirmed cases almost certainly means more cases that were not lab-confirmed.
In 2005, the health center confirmed 55-60 cases in one week, Hargreaves said, and the 2009-2010 season peaked in late October or early November with about 70 cases in a week.
“It puts a strain on labs, radiology, everyone,” he said. “We have a pretty good system here, but nationally you sometimes see people waiting for hours and hours just to get into a hospital bed.” In a bad outbreak locally, “we could have the ICU full and have to send patients elsewhere.”
Virtually the entire staff at Altru is vaccinated, officials said in a statement released Monday. “Locally, Altru physicians have noticed that influenza season is just starting and expect the remainder of February, which is historically the biggest month for flu, will be busy,” according to the statement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta also continues to recommend vaccination for everyone 6 months and older this season.
CDC also recommends “rapid flu treatment with antiviral drugs” for people at high risk of serious flu complications, including young children, pregnant women, people with asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease, and people 65 years and older.
9 confirmed cases in GF County
North Dakota had recorded 286 flu cases for 2010-2011 through last Wednesday, with the most cases reported in Cass and Morton counties — 37 cases each.
Grand Forks County has confirmed nine cases, according to state Health Department statistics, including one of H1N1.
Elsewhere in northeastern North Dakota, Traill County has had four confirmed flu cases and Griggs County one, but there had been no confirmed cases in Ramsey, Cavalier, Pembina, Walsh, Nelson and Steele counties as of last week.
Seventeen of the state’s cases required patients to be hospitalized, the Health Department said. There has been one death.
Most of the state’s 286 cases have involved young people, including 106 in people younger than 10.
In Minnesota, health officials report that influenza activity increased the week of Jan. 30-Feb. 5, with 26 schools and two long-term care facilities reporting outbreaks. Thirty-six cases required hospitalization.
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to email@example.com.