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Flu Tracking In Wyo Back After Two Years, Infections Slightly Above Projections

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

After a hiatus of nearly two years, the Wyoming Department of Health is tracking influenza infections once again.  

The latest available data on flu infection showed an influenza infection rate above what the state Health Department had predicted through most of the current flu season.

The figures showed that flu rates between late October and early March exceeded the projected seasonal average of 2% of those visiting health care providers except during a four-week period in November and December and a one-week period in March.

The highest percentage of flu infections occurred in late January, at just less than 6%.  

Flu activity was “high” in January but waned to “moderate” in late February and now is listed as “minimal”  — in a curve typical of flu seasons historically, according to Department of Health data.     

In a similar report from 2018, flu infection percentages started the flu season lower but peaked at a higher infection rate, topping out at 7% in February.

Hiatus 

The Health Department stopped tracking the flu in the spring of 2020, soon after implementing its rigorous COVID-19 tracking platforms.  

“Flu activity dropped to a very low level in spring 2020 when COVID took over,” WDH spokeswoman Kim Deti wrote Monday in an email to Cowboy State Daily. 

She attributed the drop to “precautions” taken by the state’s residents to slow the spread of COVID.  

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon in March of 2020 instigated a state of emergency which allowed the state to put limits on gatherings, mandate business closures and put other restrictions in place. Those mandates have eased, and Gordon announced Feb. 28 that he plans to end the state of emergency on March 14.  

Delay? 

WDH has posted flu tallies, along with influenza and pneumonia death tallies from October and November 2021 to its website, health.wyo.gov

However, those numbers were not publicly available during those months. According to Deti, they were not posted until Dec. 31. 

“Influenza is tracked by season, not by calendar year,” she wrote, adding that “reported numbers do not show a total picture with flu and never have.”  

Deti explained the delay in posting was the result of burdens on department staff created by COVID.

“Our staff in this area has been carrying a heavy load due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.  

WDH staff, Deti said, now are uploading flu data on a weekly basis.  

Deaths Published

Although the bar graphs logging flu and pneumonia deaths were not accessible via weekly reports during the tracking hiatus, those numbers now have been added into the flu tracking reports.  

The winter of 2020-21 showed generally fewer pneumonia and flu deaths than in the five years prior with between six and nine per month. April and May of 2021 had six and five pneumonia/flu deaths respectively, which was closer to the five-year averages of roughly eight and four.  

The current season from November to February has had generally fewer pneumonia/flu deaths than the six years prior, except for an October 2021 spike to 12 deaths.  

Contributing Causes 

Deti said in the 2020-21 flu season, only one flu death also was listed as a COVID death.  

“This was actually the only reported influenza-related death for the 2020-21 season,” she said, indicating that the other 49 deaths on the mortality graphs are attributable to pneumonia instead.  

So far this season, added Deti, “we have not seen” death certificates listing both COVID and the flu as causes.  

The department’s Records Department declined to provide a tally of ages and underlying death causes in COVID victims in late 2020, saying “listing a decedent’s age and the cause of death… may easily be linked or mapped back to an obituary and the identity of the party.” 

“The WDH will not disclose this death data to the public,” the agency wrote at the time.   

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Flu Cases Remain Low Compared to Prior Seasons in Wyoming

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s influenza season appears to be off to a mild start, with cases up just slightly this year over last year but markedly lower than prior flu seasons.

According to the weekly influenza report from Wyoming Department of Health, the number of flu cases reported in the state fell from 200 during the first week in January to just over 100 at the last reporting on Jan. 14.

By comparision, during the same period in 2019, a little less than 600 influenza cases were reported. That year, case numbers spiked at more than 1,400 cases by the end of February. 

Flu season runs from October through May.

Influenza case numbers were not posted for the 2020-21 season, according to Kim Deti, public information officer for WDH, because the state did not experience significant flu activity last season. 

This year, WDH has reported seeing cases of both Influenza A and B virus circulating, with the dominant strand being Flu A (H3N2). Cases have been reported in 21 of Wyoming’s 23 counties.

Deti cautioned against putting too much stock in these numbers, however, given the fact that some medical providers do not consistently report influenza cases to WDH and few patients get tested for the illness.

“The numbers do not show a total picture. With flu, they never have,” she said, noting that comparing reported cases of influenza from season to season or week to week may not be valid given the many factors influencing both testing and reporting.

 However, it is certain that Wyoming is currently experiencing low levels of influenza activity this season compared to previous years, Deti said. 

Deti said that the decrease in flu activity last season in Wyoming mirrored a decline in flu cases seen nationally. Many experts attributed the decline in 2020-21 to COVID-19 related precautions such as traveling less, attending fewer public events and other public health precautions.  

 “For the 2019-20 flu season, activity was running at high levels until the pandemic began and people started taking the precautions we all remember,” she said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. “Then it dropped.”

WDH can’t predict what the rest of the flu season will look like, Deti added, because it’s relatively early in the season.  

Since the beginning of this year’s flu season, 22 Wyoming residents have died of pneumonia and influenza-related illnesses. 

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Wyoming Dept Of Health Unsure What To Expect This Flu Season

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

With September comes the beginning of flu season, but the Wyoming Department of Health isn’t quite sure what to expect this fall with regards to the virus with the mix of the coronavirus.

With the Delta variant of COVID-19 continuing to boost the number of active cases across the state, the department will continue encouraging vaccinations, not only for COVID, but the flu as well.

“We do not have a prediction for what to expect with regards to influenza for the coming season,” spokeswoman Kim Deti told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. ” We expect to encourage everyone over the age of six months to get a vaccination to help prevent influenza when the shots are available to them.”

She added that it is safe to get both a flu and COVID vaccine at the same time.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many Wyoming residents received a flu vaccine last season.

Last flu season, the department saw a fraction of the normal number of flu-related cases among Wyoming residents due to mask mandates and pandemic-related shutdowns. In January, Deti told Cowboy State Daily that flu cases were “extremely” low, down to nearly 10% of normal numbers.

“We are receiving sporadic reports of both Influenza A and Influenza B strains,” she said at the time. “The precautions intended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19  as well as the changes in people’s activities are likely a factor behind lower flu activity.”

The state has not yet published its 2019-2020 flu season summary report.

Just over 35% of the state is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

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Wyoming Department of Health: Flu Virus Volume In Wyoming “Extremely Low”

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Health Department warns flu
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

One perk of coronavirus-related shutdowns has been that many common viruses in Wyoming, including influenza, have been on a downturn, according to health officials.

Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti confirmed to Cowboy State Daily that the volume of influenza cases in the state were “extremely low,” possibly even down to 10% of what they normally would be in mid-January.

“We are receiving sporadic reports of both Influenza A and Influenza B strains,” she said. “The precautions intended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19  as well as the changes in people’s activities are likely a factor behind lower flu activity.”

The Wyoming Public Health Laboratory tests for the flu along with the coronavirus when a person gets a nasal swab for COVID-19.

According to a 2020 study, Wyoming had the 48th lowest flu vaccination coverage rate among adults in the U.S. and is dead last for flu vaccinations for children 17 and under.

In October, the combination of coronavirus and the flu had generated concern on the part of the state’s public health officer.

“As we approach a new flu season, we know flu viruses will circulate while COVID-19 remains a threat,” Dr. Alexia Harrist said. “Because there are fewer restrictions in Wyoming now than in the spring, we are concerned about the potential harm to our residents and strain on our healthcare system from the combined threat of both influenza and COVID-19.”

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Gordon Gets Flu Shot; Urges Citizens To Do The Same Especially With Covid Threat

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Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon got a flu shot Thursday morning and posted photos of the action on his Facebook page.

The governor urged citizens to follow suit citing the presence of the coronavirus in the state.

“Flu shots are particularly important this year as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory offers testing that can detect influenza or COVID-19 from the same sample,” Gordon said.

If this seems like common sense, it’s not a unanimous sentiment in the state of Wyoming.

According to a recent study, Wyoming has 48th lowest flu vaccination coverage rate among adults in the U.S. and is dead last for flu vaccinations for children 17 and under.

Some medical experts are worried that the flu and the coronavirus could form an “unhealthy alliance” and pack hospitals this year.

To that end, there is a reported flu vaccine shortage in China as people are afraid of “twindemic.”

“In Beijing, clinics have reported serious shortages and elsewhere in the country residents complain they have not been able to get the shots,” The Guardian reported.

Gordon said flu shots are safe and help reduce illness, hospitalizations and deaths.

“They are available throughout Wyoming at public health nursing offices, workplaces, doctors’ offices and pharmacies,” he said.

Wyoming’s Public Health Officer, Dr. Alexia Harrist, echoed the governor’s remarks adding that because of fewer coronavirus restrictions issued by the state, she is increasingly concerned.

“As we approach a new flu season, we know flu viruses will circulate while COVID-19 remains a threat,” she said. “Because there are fewer restrictions in Wyoming now than in the spring, we are concerned about the potential harm to our residents and strain on our healthcare system from the combined threat of both influenza and COVID-19.”

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Flu season open in Wyoming — get your shot!

in News/Health care
2223

It’s fall in Wyoming and that means the Wyoming Health Department is issuing its annual reminder to residents to get their flu vaccine to protect themselves against the kind of severe flu season seen last year.

According to the Health Department, 23 people died from the flu during the 2018-19 flu season and hundreds were hospitalized.

Although the department isn’t predicting what kind of flu season may be in store for Wyoming in 2019-2020, it is urging everyone to get vaccinated.

“There are a lot of things about the flu we do know,” said Kim Deti, the department’s spokeswoman. “We know it’s coming every year. We know every year we’re going to see deaths, hospitalizations and illnesses. We want you to get that shot.”

Autumn is the best time of year to get a flu shot, Deti said, because it coincides with the beginning of the typical flu season, which generally runs from October through May.

“We don’t necessarily have a time frame,” she said. “But this is a great time of year to get it. We don’t want people to wait until folks around them are ill. That’s not going to help you very much.”

The vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully effective, Deti said, meaning if someone waits until people around them are ill, they may have waited too long.

“If you wait until people around you are sick, you may still get exposed,” she said.

In addition to preventing the flu, the vaccination can reduce the severity of influenza if someone who has received the shot gets sick anyway, Deti said.

“We’re not going to promise it’s 100 percent ironclad protection,” she said. “But it’s the best weapon we have to fight influenza.”

Being vaccinated also helps prevent the spread of flu to others, she added.

“You might be able to bounce back from the flu, but you don’t want to pass the disease on to someone else who is more vulnerable than you are,” she said. “It’s about protecting other people who have more struggles with the flu.”

The Health Department identifies people who may be particularly susceptible to the flu as young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions such as asthma or diabetes and those over the age of 65.

In addition to getting the vaccine, the Health Department urges people to take precautions against spreading the flu, such as washing their hands often.

“Hand washing is extremely important, particularly with the flu and how it’s spread,” Deti said.

Dangerous flu strain reported in Colorado could spread north

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Health Department warns flu
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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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