Quiet beginning to local flu season, but more to come | SummitDaily.com

Quiet beginning to local flu season, but more to come

The number of reported hospitalizations for influenza is down across the state, including Summit County, so far this season, but that doesn't mean we're in the clear. Flu season typically peaks in February, and health officials are still telling locals to get vaccinated as the best means for combating the severe winter illness.

The year-end holidays have now passed, which means the annual increases of influenza are right around the corner.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which monitors and protects the health of the United States, notes the timing of the flu is often unpredictable and varies from each part of the country to the next. The flu season typically begins in early October though and can last through late May. For the 2015-16 season, it officially started Oct. 4, 2015 with estimates of it running through May 28 of the New Year, with activity most commonly peaking across the U.S. between December and February.

"Nationally, it's been a slow start to this season," Sara Lopez, a registered nurse at Summit County Public Health, recently explained in a county forum. "Typically, we'll see the peak in February, but we just don't know."

She noted Summit County has already had its first laboratory-confirmed case of the flu this season; however, with several rapid tests as proof of others, though, false-positives are possible with the more concise analyses. But such evidence is precisely why the CDC recommends the annual vaccine just as soon as it's available, as early as September.

In addition, once receiving the shot, it can take each person several weeks to develop the proper antibodies for protection from the infliction, which also promotes the concept of getting vaccinated once the new strain is released each season.

"If you get exposed — you got your vaccine, and then, a week later, you got exposed to someone with influenza — you might not be well covered until at least several weeks have elapsed and your body has enough time to mount enough protection," she said.

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Influenza is a respiratory virus that comes with it symptoms such as high fever, chills and body aches, all lasting an average of seven days. It is particularly contagious and is spread through airborne droplets when someone sneezes or coughs or through touching something someone with the illness has already touched, say, if they've coughed into their hands.

"It is a very severe illness, and I think we do it an injustice by speaking of it so lightly," continued Lopez. "It is not mild. There is no such thing as 'a touch of the flu.'"

The CDC estimates 226,000 hospitalizations annually from influenza, causing between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Hand washing is a beneficial way to decrease the spread of germs, as is avoiding coming into contact with individuals who are sick — so also is staying home from school or work if feeling ill. The vaccine remains far and away the best form of prevention, recommended to everyone 6 months and older to help offset the flu's robust ability to infect.

And it's a community necessity. Severe reactions are exceptionally rare, so for merely a little arm soreness and potential redness near the site of injection — typical side effects of the vaccine — locals can help ward off the virus for themselves, as well as passing it along to others, especially young children and the elderly who are more susceptible and impacted by influenza. Carriers can be quite infectious, even ahead of symptoms.

The current vaccine is available at local pharmacies, primary care physicians and various clinics. Summit County Public Health (located at 360 Peak One Drive, Suite #230 in Frisco) also has walk-in immunizations available every Monday from 1-4:30 p.m. This is important to do each year as well, as the specific strains included with each dose change from season to season.

"It varies year to year," said Lopez, "it's very difficult to predict. Researchers look at trends throughout the world and then they kind of create the vaccine based on that."

Vaccinations are arguably even more important in places such as Summit County, what with so many visitors from all over arriving to the area during the winter for the its environmental offerings and resorts. The potential for the transfer of disease is also much greater at this time of year because people tend to congregate inside more, meaning they also share more germs.

So far this season, flu activity remains quite low. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) publishes a weekly flu report for the state throughout the length of season. The most recent report, through the week ending Saturday, Dec. 26, proclaimed just six new flu-like hospitalizations reported for a grand total of 22 cases across eight counties dating to October.

At present, no outbreaks or pediatric (persons 18 years old or younger) deaths associated with influenza have been reported in Colorado. That's still no reason to think we're past the season and that we're in the clear.

The 2014-15 flu season, for instance, lasted through May 23, 2015 and resulted a record of nearly 3,400 hospitalizations (This data first became traceable in 2004-05). It was by far the highest number of hospitalizations reported during a season, well above the approximately 2,150 from 2009-10. With the all-time high hospitalizations came six pediatric deaths — one of the major barometers for the seriousness of a flu season — the most since 2008-09.

"Some vaccines are good for life, but, with the flu vaccine, it does need to be done annually," said Lopez, detailing how the majority of years its an entirely new blend. "Certainly, the vaccine is the best thing you can do for prevention. Nothing's a sure thing, but it's absolutely the best thing that you can do."

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