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Flu cases may peak in late season

BISMARCK--Though influenza cases soared one year ago, this season's strains have made little dent in North Dakota's population. The North Dakota Department of Health reports that 67 cases of lab-confirmed influenza have occurred this season throu...

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BISMARCK-Though influenza cases soared one year ago, this season's strains have made little dent in North Dakota's population.

The North Dakota Department of Health reports that 67 cases of lab-confirmed influenza have occurred this season through Dec. 19, the most recent data available. She said 242 cases were confirmed as of the same week in 2014.

"It's going to be a later season," said Jill Baber, influenza surveillance coordinator for the Health Department. "We were getting a lot of cases this time last year."

Last season peaked the week of Christmas, with more than 1,000 new cases. By season's end, the Health Department reported its largest case count on record at 6,443. Fifty-four people in North Dakota died from the flu.

Baber said there's a correlation between severe seasons and a high number of early cases. Nevertheless, it's possible for a late season to be severe as well.

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"The influenza is unpredictable," she said.

So far this season, no predominant strain has emerged. Last year's H3N2 strain is present again in North Dakota. Nationally, H1N1 is also on the rise, Baber said.

She said the vaccine this year appears well-matched to the viruses present, which was not the case last season. The viruses mutated, rendering the vaccine less effective.

At CHI St. Alexius Health in Bismarck, lab tests have returned only a few positive results, said Sue Ziemann, who has worked as infection prevention coordinator at the hospital for 23 years. While the season is less severe than a typical one at this point in the year, she said she has seen late seasons turn more serious after January.

Dr. Eric Thompson, a family medicine physician at Sanford Health's downtown Bismarck walk-in-clinic, said the lab has yet to return any positive influenza diagnoses this season for the clinic's patients.

However, doctors have clinically diagnosed a couple patients with the flu. The ill patients are from other states but came in while visiting relatives for the holidays, Thompson said.

"The holidays are notorious for spreading disease, unfortunately," he said.

People who believe they have the flu should visit the doctor if they are experiencing difficulty breathing or high fevers, he said. Doctors are recommending people with secondary chronic diseases or other risk factors take Tamiflu if they have contracted an influenza virus, he said.

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Tamiflu is not necessary for otherwise healthy people between the ages of 5-65, Thompson said. He recommends people in that age group rest, drink fluids and take ibuprofen or Tylenol to combat aches and pains.

Health officials suggest people with the flu try to isolate themselves from close contact with others.

"It's important for people if they are having symptoms of illness to stay away from public places and stay home from work until those symptoms are resolved," Ziemann said.

To stay healthy, officials recommend getting a flu vaccine and washing hands frequently.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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