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Flu peak? Confirmed cases of influenza down last week in ND

Masks await visitors at the Jamestown Veteran’s Administration Clinic, ready to be worn if a patient is experiencing flu symptoms. John M. Steiner / The Sun

For the first time since the flu season started in November, the number of cases last week was fewer than the week before, according to Jill Baber, epidemiologist with the North Dakota Department of Health.

“Too early to tell if we’ve peaked,” she said, “but I’m glad it went down.”

The weekly influenza update published Feb. 8 reported 748 cases for the week ending Feb. 3. That compares to 816 cases reported for the week ending Jan. 27.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of confirmed flu cases continued to increase during the same period.

If the North Dakota flu season has peaked, it would be the earliest peak in the last two years. During the 2016-2017 flu season the peak activity was reported Feb. 18, 2017. The peak of flu diagnosis in the 2015-2016 flu season was during the week ending March 12, 2016.

“The flu season started earlier this year than the last years,” Baber said. “It would be surprising if it didn’t peak earlier.”

Baber said there have been 4,937 confirmed cases of influenza in North Dakota this flu season. The cases have resulted in 196 hospitalizations and 20 flu-related deaths and may have contributed to 263 deaths from pneumonia.

The cases of influenza and the deaths have been roughly evenly spread around North Dakota, she said.

The Jamestown area also reported the flu earlier than normal.

“Typically, the peak season is from February to March,” said Marcia Bollingberg, director of nursing at Central Valley Health District in Jamestown. “This year people got sick earlier and it hung on longer than other years.”

Baber said the decrease in flu cases has been in Type A influenza while Type B influenza has been increasing.

“Influenza B is slightly worse for children,” she said, “but the symptoms are not a lot different than the more common Type A.”

So far this flu season, there have been 4,535 cases of Type A influenza and 402 cases of Type B confirmed by laboratory testing in North Dakota.

Symptoms for both types of flu include headaches, fatigue, fever, chills, runny nose, body aches, cough and sore throat. People can spread the flu for one day before the onset of symptoms and for five to seven days after they become ill.

“If you are not feeling well, stay home,” Bollingberg said. “Washing your hands and covering your cough can also slow the spread of the disease.”

Getting a flu shot now can also help even for people who have already had the flu, Baber said.

“You can get Type B even if you’ve had Type A influenza,” she said. “You are actually susceptible to Type B, and a lot of other diseases, when you are run down from the flu.”