March 18th, 2019
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (March 18, 2019). – With spring approaching and focus shifting from common winter illnesses to warmer thoughts and vacation plans, local health care providers reminded the community to remember the influenza season is not over yet, and there is still time to take precaution.
“We have been fortunate that locally we have seen mostly the old tried and true H1N1 this season,” said Deborah McMahan, MD, health commissioner for the Allen County Department of Health. “However, the season is not over, and the state is reporting an uptick in the H3N2 strain. I would hate to see people have spring break plans ruined because they didn’t utilize available prevention-measures.”
Dr. McMahan joined Dr. Scott Stienecker, medical director for epidemiology and infection prevention for Parkview Health, at the Kroger Pharmacy, 6002 St. Joe Center Rd., Monday to discuss the recent increase in cases, what the H3N2 influenza virus looks like, and why the flu shot is still important.
The Indiana State Department of Health reported high influenza activity across the state March 8, with a shift from H1N1 to H3N2 being the predominant strain of virus circulating. Both are Influenza A viruses, and H3N2 was the widespread virus that made the 2017-2018 flu season difficult for many, Dr. McMahan said.
Dr. Stienecker said flu activity in Parkview hospitals started increasing over the past few weeks, from an average of 10 to 15 cases each day up to an average 45 cases daily. He said the low percentage of people vaccinated in the U.S. has likely contributed to the second wave of illness coming late in the season. The average rate for flu vaccinations in America hovers around 40 percent each year. He compared it to Australia where flu vaccinations rates are around 70 percent, and their season remained much less severe. The vaccine may not prevent the flu completely, but it can lessen the impact and severity of symptoms, Dr. Stienecker said. And the more people who are vaccinated increases herd immunity and helps curb spread.
He also discussed how the H3N2 flu virus typically causes more strain on the heart, making it especially dangerous for people over 70 and those with cardiac-related issues and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Dr. McMahan said the most recent uptick of flu cases are still being reported among people under the age of 50, and emphasized the importance of people of all ages to get the vaccine. And, as always, she advised anyone with flu symptoms stay home until they have no fever to avoid spreading the virus. While flu cases have not resulted in visitation restrictions in the community, she also warned against anyone with symptoms visiting nursing homes or hospitals, where people can be especially susceptible to the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. flu season occurs in the fall and winter, usually peaking between December and February. However, activity can last as late as May. The CDC recommends everyone six months of age and older get a flu vaccine each season, and advise it is particularly important for those at high risk of serious complications from influenza. People at high risk for developing flu-related complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections include children younger than five-years-old, adults over 65 years of age, pregnant women and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.