Health Department warns flu

Dangerous flu strain reported in Colorado could spread north

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A virulent strain of influenza sweeping through Colorado could jump into Wyoming before flu season is finished, a Wyoming Department of Health spokesperson.

While she did not refer specifically to the variation of flu diagnosed in Colorado, Kim Deti, the public information officer for the Wyoming Department of Health, said it is not unusual for different strains of flu to spread.

“Strains move around,” she said. “In flu season, sometimes you will see more than one strain be dominant. That’s not unusual.”

While Influenza A (H1N1) is currently the predominant strain in Wyoming, Influenza A (H3N2), is spreading quickly through Colorado’s population.

“Over the last three weeks, we’ve started to see H3N2 circulating in Colorado,” said Nisha Alden, Colorado Department of Health respiratory disease program manager. “It’s somewhat of a second peak in our flu season. First, we were seeing a lot of H1N1, but in the last two weeks, we’ve seen more H3N2 than H1N1.”

Alden said H3N2 can be resistant to the flu vaccine and tends to affect people older than 65 more severely than H1N1.

“We see more (H3N2) outbreaks in long-term care facilities,” she said. “We see a higher number of hospitalizations. And sometimes, we see a higher number of deaths as well.”

Flu season typically runs from October-May, and during the 2018-2019 season, Alden said several flu-related deaths were recorded, including two fatalities among children.

Deti said Wyoming has also experienced several flu-related deaths in the current season, but none in children.

“Flu season is definitely continuing,” she said. “That’s not necessarily surprising, considering the season can run until late spring. But, we are one of the 30 states that are seeing a higher number of cases in the nation.”

The H3N2 flu strain has not cropped in many places around Wyoming this season, Deti said. But both strains can be combatted with a few simple steps.

“We always recommend the people get the vaccine,” Deti said. “People need to know the vaccine takes two weeks to do any good, so if you wait until everyone around you is sick it might not prevent you from getting the flu for that go around.”

Flu vaccines aren’t perfect, and though H3N2 can be resistant, the vaccine is still the most effective preventative measure, she said.

“Also, frequently wash your hands,” Deti added. “It sounds so simple, but it’s very effective.”

Anyone can contract the flu, but infants, pregnant women, people older than 65 and people with chronic health conditions such as asthma could be at a higher risk for severe complications including death, she said.

“We know flu season is coming every year, but we can’t predict when it will peak, and we don’t always know which strains are going to be circulating,” Deti said. “One our biggest concerns is that because flu is so common, it’s not always taken as seriously as it should be.”

In 2018, 27 people died in Wyoming of flu-related illnesses. Go to www.health.wyo.gov/news for up-to-date information about influenza strains and other illnesses prevalent in Wyoming.

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