We are still in the middle of flu season and many areas are reporting higher than average numbers.
How much of an impact is it having in parts of Idaho?
Currently, Idaho is listed in the “moderate” category for flu activity. That’s good compared to much of the rest of the nation which is listed as “high.”
However, Idaho is still seeing an increase, especially compared to the last few years.
“Over the last few weeks we’ve definitely seen an increase compared to where before Christmastime, it was pretty quiet,” said Jeff Doerr, epidemiologist with Southeast Idaho Public Health. “But even nationwide, that’s jumped up a whole lot.”
Portneuf Medical Center says their numbers agree with that.
“For me, it’s the busiest that it seems since I’ve been here which was in 2006, so busiest I’ve seen I think,” said Dr. Kurtis Holt, emergency department medical director at PMC.
According to Doerr, last yaer, for the 2017-2018 season, Idaho reported around 73 deaths for the whole season. So far this year, he says, Idaho is up to 51 according to the latest numbers.
Portneuf Medical Center is definitely seeing more flu patients in its ER due to that increase.
“Last year we had roughly 50 confirmed cases of influenza in the ED in January and this year, we had over 140 so it’s almost three times the amount that we saw last year,” Holt said.
Holt added they’ve also had more patients hospitalized because of the flu, not just more ER visits. He said one big reason is probably because the vaccine hasn’t been as helpful in prevention as years past because of this particular strain of the flu.
“It’s been shown that the vaccine hasn’t been quite as effective as it’s been in years past, which it doesn’t need to be 100 percent effective or even 75 percent effective, but the effectiveness of the vaccine is quite a bit less than it’s been so even people that have gotten the vaccine have gotten sick this year which isn’t unusual but it’s more prevalent this year,” Holt explained.
But Doerr and Holt agree that even a slightly effective vaccine is better than no protection at all against a flu epidemic.
“Even having that flu vaccine, it may not be a perfect match, but there’s the possibility you might not get the flu if you’re exposed,” Doerr added. “Or even have it not as severe as it would be.”
Doerr said from the latest surveillance information, Oregon has gone from being considered “widespread” to “local cases.” He said that means it could spread to Idaho and may mean we are on the downhill side of the flu, but it is still unpredictable so use all precautions to avoid getting sick.