The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) is reporting widespread influenza activity for North Dakota. As of December 13, 332 cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza have been reported, with a large increase in the number of cases reported in the last two weeks. Several community outbreaks have also been reported in recent weeks.
“For the third season in a row, influenza activity is starting earlier than is typical,” said Jill Baber, influenza surveillance coordinator for NDDoH. “Because the influenza season may very well continue for weeks, it’s important that everyone take precautions to avoid spreading the flu, including getting the flu vaccine.”
It is common for different types of flu strains to circulate each season. Nationwide, the majority of flu cases have been caused by Influenza A H3N2 this season. However, this circulating A H3N2 strain has changed a little (or drifted) from the A H3N2 strain used to make the vaccine. “At this time, no cases of the drifted strain have been identified in North Dakota, but it is likely that it is present in the state,” said Baber. “We want to reiterate that vaccination is still advised.” The vaccine is effective against other influenza strains circulating in the country and may still provide some protection against the drifted strain.
In years when the circulating influenza viruses differ from the vaccine components, treatment with influenza antivirals becomes especially important. Treatment with antivirals works best when begun within 48 hours of getting sick. For this reason, it is important people receive prompt medical attention if they think they may have the flu. Antivirals may also be given to people at risk of severe complications of flu if they know they have been exposed to someone diagnosed with flu.
Influenza can be a serious illness for some people. Complications of influenza and pneumonia contribute to the deaths of over 400 North Dakotans annually, most of whom are older than 64. However, a large number of influenza cases occur in children younger than 10, many of whom require hospitalization. “You should talk to your doctor promptly if you think you may have symptoms of influenza,” said Baber. “Common signs and symptoms of influenza include abrupt onset of fever, muscle aches, sore throat and cough.”
To help prevent the spread of influenza, the Department of Health urges everyone to:
• Get a flu vaccine as soon as possible if you have not had one this season. Immunization is the best way to prevent influenza. As a reminder, it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be effective.
• Wash hands frequently with soap and water. Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent all diseases, including influenza.
• Use good respiratory manners. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing or coughing.
• Stay home from work, school or recreational activities when you are ill. This will help prevent the spread of influenza to your friends, coworkers and family.
For more information about influenza activity in North Dakota, visit www.ndflu.com.