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ND sees 5,915 influenza cases

The flu season in North Dakota has been busy and persistent, according to Jill Baber, influenza surveillance coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Health.

The flu season in North Dakota has been busy and persistent, according to Jill Baber, influenza surveillance coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Health.

"We had quite a lot of cases," she said, referring to the flu season that started in October. "We're still having cases; they won't go away."

The weekly influenza update issued Thursday showed 5,915 cases in North Dakota since the beginning of the flu season. The report said about 500 cases occurred in the week ending on March 18.

Baber said the active flu season can run into May, depending on the year.

The 5,915 confirmed cases so far this year may exceed the 2014-15 flu season, which saw a total of 6,443 cases during the entire season. The 2014-15 season was the heaviest flu season in the past five years.

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Stutsman County has also seen a busy year for flu, according to Marcia Bollingberg, director of nursing at Central Valley Health District.

"Only the middle school is seeing a lot of absences now," she said, referring to school attendance, one of the ways flu activity is monitored. "The other schools peaked earlier."

Statewide, the peak in flu activity came in the week ending Feb. 18, Baber said. The bulk of the confirmed cases have been the A H3N2 flu strain.

"Typically, the A (strain of flu virus) cases decline and the B (strain) increases late in the season," she said. "Some people actually get both."

Elderly people are more likely to come down with the A H3N2 strain, although anyone can become ill with the disease, Baber said.

"The vaccine doesn't work quite as well for this strain compared to the B strain and some of the other A strains," she said.

North Dakota has reported 10 deaths from flu this year, Baber said. There have been 203 cases that have resulted in hospitalization.

"That's fairly low for the number of cases we've had," she said, referring to the fatalities.

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Bollingberg said it is hard to gauge how many cases of flu have occurred, especially if the symptoms are not severe.

"There have been a lot of sick people, but unless they go to the clinic and were tested, we don't know about them," she said.

With more than a month left of the flu season, Bollingberg said it is not too late to get a flu shot. The shots take about two weeks to become effective but could offer immunity to the B strain influenza that is most common late in the season.

Frequent hand-washing and not touching the face with your hands are a couple of ways to avoid contracting the flu. Avoiding people with the flu isn't always possible, Bollingberg said.

People with the flu are contagious from one day before the start of symptoms to five to seven days after the start of symptoms.

"If you're not feeling well, staying home is the best option," Bollingberg said.

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