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Published February 24, 2011, 02:37 PM

Flu Season Picks Up In North Dakota

Officials say it’s not too late to get shot
Influenza is ramping up its annual assault on immune systems, and it’s not too late to get a flu shot, health officials said Wednesday.

By: Mike Nowatzki, Forum Communications

Influenza is ramping up its annual assault on immune systems, and it’s not too late to get a flu shot, health officials said Wednesday.

North Dakota saw a 16 percent jump in flu cases in the week ending Wednesday, from 429 to 498 cases unofficially as reports continued to trickle in, said Lindsey VanderBusch, influenza surveillance epidemiologist for the state Department of Health.

“This week is the first week that we’re reporting widespread (flu) activity to the CDC,” she said.

Flu season hasn’t peaked yet, and health officials say the upswing in cases is coming later than normal – especially compared with last flu season, when H1N1 cases peaked in October and November 2009, pushing the count to around 3,200 cases.

Local health care providers reported an increase in people exhibiting flu symptoms late last week and especially over the weekend, said Fargo Cass Public Health Director Ruth Bachmeier.

“It’s a late season, later than it has been the last few years. It was only a matter of time we would start seeing influenza in the community,” she said.

Bill Williams, director of operations at 7 Day Clinic’s three locations in Fargo-Moorhead, said they began to see increases in flu and strep throat cases two to three weeks ago.

Most patients are seeking treatment for flu symptoms, Williams said, and he encouraged people to consider getting a shot.

“Most people think it’s over, that you’ve got to get your flu shot in the fall,” he said. “It can still be protective, so it’s not too late to get a flu shot.”

It takes about two weeks after the shot to receive immunity, and vaccine supplies are strong, said Cathy Anderson, director of nursing at Clay County Public Health.

She and other health officials stressed the importance of washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home from school or work if sick.

“All of those things play into the spread of the infection,” Anderson said.

North Dakota has recorded two flu-related deaths since Sept. 1, one involving a child under age 10 and the other an adult over age 60.

The H1N1 vaccine was included in this season’s flu shot, and so far North Dakota has recorded 21 H1N1 cases, according to the Health Department.

The Minnesota Department of Health tracks only hospitalized flu cases, and reporting lags slightly behind North Dakota, but the state also has seen a rise in cases. The percentage of rapid flu tests coming back positive increased to 17.1 percent for the week of Feb. 6-12, and 32 schools reported outbreaks of flu-like illness that week, according to the department’s website.

Bachmeier said symptoms being reported include coughs, colds, headaches, fevers and aches.

While it’s too early to tell what the late peak may mean for the severity of the flu season, Bachmeier anticipates it will be a “fairly normal” flu season.