This year’s influenza strain is widespread throughout Utah, according to information from the Utah Department of Health.
While the flu was widespread as of the second week of January, the severity of the flu this season is considered low due to a below-average amount of hospitalizations, according to the department’s Utah Influenza Report.
There have been 249 seasonal flu-associated hospitalizations in Utah this year, with the predominant strain being H1N1, according to the report.
Utah County has seen 20 people hospitalized from the flu this season, with 17 of those being hospitalized due to H1N1, according to numbers from the Utah County Health Department.
The hospitalization rate for this season’s flu is categorized as low, while it was at moderate during the same time last year. The rate of influenza-like illnesses is decreasing and has dropped into the low category, although positive rates for flu tests continue to increase, according to the state report.
The flu season starts in October, typically peaks in January or February, and ends in May.
The flu is mainly impacting those in Utah County with immune system problems, such as the elderly and infants, according to Lisa Guerra, epidemiology coordinator with the Utah County Health Department.
“We aren’t seeing greater numbers of the flu, but of the numbers we’re seeing there is a greater percentage of hospitalized cases,” she said.
About 20 percent of lab results for those with flu-like illnesses in the state have tested positive for the flu, according to the state report. Guerra said those who are experiencing flu-like symptoms could have parainfluenza or the common cold.
Guerra said the flu shot will never give someone the flu, but they could have had the flu before they received the shot, or they could have something else.
“Unless you’ve been tested, you don’t know if you have the flu,” she said.
A mild strain this year means people are more likely to continue to go to work, school or church and spread it. Guerra said part of that is American culture, where people want to show they’re tough or have jobs where they can’t take time off work.
She recommends to wash hands, stay in when sick, or, if someone has to go out, wear a mask to prevent those with the flu from spreading it. She also recommends getting the flu shot.
It is not too late to receive the shot.
“We’ll give it to anyone until it expires,” said Lori Barber, the nursing director for the Utah County Health Department.
Guerra said that getting the flu shot not only protects the person receiving the shot, but also the elderly and babies who aren’t old enough to be immunized.