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Health officials: Flu season yet to peak, shots still advised

The North Dakota Department of Health says the flu season has yet to peak and it urges those who have not gotten a flu shot to get one. Forum file photo.

FARGO — Health officials warn the flu season has yet to peak, so they continue to advise flu shots for anyone not yet vaccinated.

This winter, North Dakota has tallied about 4,215 laboratory-identified cases of flu, according to the North Dakota Department of Health.

That compares to about 6,000 laboratory-identified cases for the same time last year, said Jenny Galbraith, an epidemiologist with the Department of Health in Bismarck.

She said approximately 8,000 flu cases were identified in North Dakota last year.

Brenton Nesemeier, a field epidemiologist with the Department of Health, said it is too early to tell if the flu has peaked this winter, but he's hopeful cases will start to dwindle soon.

Most area flu cases this winter have involved children and, in general, cases have been less severe than last year, according to Nesemeier.

He said that could be because the vaccine used this year is a better match for the bug that showed up this flu season.

Nesemeier added that another reason the flu may not have hit quite as hard this year is that people are taking more precautions.

"Last year was a pretty tough flu season, so more people were aware of the flu this year," he said.

Nesemeier and Galbraith stressed that, in addition to getting flu shots, other ways to ward off sickness and its spread include frequent hand washing and being careful to cover your nose and mouth when sneezing.

Also, it's always a good idea to stay home when you're sick so you don't spread what you have to others, Galbraith said.

She added that even though it takes about two weeks for a flu shot to become effective, enough flu season remains to make a shot worthwhile.

"It's the easiest way to prevent yourself from getting flu," Galbraith said.

In Minnesota, the state Department of Health tracks influenza cases based on hospitalizations.

The agency recently reported that so far this flu season Minnesota had 1,005 hospitalized influenza cases.

Last year, Minnesota reported a total of 6,446 hospitalized influenza cases.

Jamie Hennen, director of nursing for Clay County Public Health, said the current flu season doesn't stand out as unusual and she noted the agency was continuing to vaccinate people.

"Our vaccine is being used," she said. "People are getting their flu shots."

But that isn't necessarily the case nationwide.

The North Dakota Department of Health provided numbers that showed that during the 2017-2018 flu season, 185 child deaths were reported in the United States, with about 80 percent of the deaths occurring in children who did not receive a flu vaccine.

So far this flu season, more than 20 child deaths have been reported in the United States.

About 44 percent of children in North Dakota age 6 months to 4 years get vaccinated, according to figures provided by the Department of Health.