Flu deaths are on the rise across Idaho, with this year’s influenza season shaping up to be one of the most severe in recent memory, according to Idaho health officials.
“We are aware of 47 influenza-related deaths in Idaho so far this season, which includes 36 verified flu deaths and 11 current reports that are in the process of verification,” said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, State Influenza Surveillance Coordinator. “This is one of the most severe flu seasons in the state since 2000.”
Over the last 17 seasons, the highest number of flu-related deaths was 35. That occurred during the 2012-2013 season, officials stated.
“Unfortunately, this flu season is far from over,” Tengelsen warned. “If you haven’t yet gotten the vaccine, it is not too late! Being vaccinated is your best option to protect yourself and your family from influenza.”
The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories reports that four different influenza viruses are circulating in Idaho this season; 98.4% are the influenza A(H3) virus, which is considered the most severe of the influenza viruses detected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that, of all influenza A(H3) viruses evaluated from across the country, almost 97% matched the influenza A(H3) strain found in this year’s vaccines. In fact, the vaccines this year are considered a good match to all currently circulating strains.
“Besides getting the flu vaccine, health experts say you can also take everyday actions to stop the spread of influenza. This includes covering your cough, staying home when you are sick, and washing your hands frequently -- especially after being out in the public,” said Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesman Chris Smith.
Most people who get influenza recover after a few days, but some people may develop serious complications. Every year, influenza contributes to an estimated 36,000 deaths in the United States, along with more than 200,000 hospitalizations.
“If you do become sick with the flu, your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs to treat your illness. If taken at the start of illness, these drugs can help decrease the severity of your illness and shorten the time you are sick.
Antivirals also can prevent serious flu complications that could land you in the hospital. Complications include, but are not limited to, secondary bacterial infections, serious pneumonia, and even death,” Smith added.
For those who are high-risk for complications from influenza, it is very important to promptly seek medical attention when symptoms start. Those at high-risk include children under the age of 5, adults 65 years or older, pregnant women, and those with medical conditions such as asthma, heart or lung diseases, or a weakened immune system, he said.