TWIN FALLS — In just a month, four deaths due to flu-related complications — all among residents older than 50 — have been reported in south-central Idaho.
But those deaths could have occurred anytime during the year — not necessarily recently, South Central Public Health District spokeswoman Brianna Bodily said Friday. Numbers are updated based on when reports from county coroners are submitted.
In mid-February, south-central Idaho was the only region in the state that didn’t have any flu-related deaths on record.
Here locally, there have been a couple of flu outbreaks within the last couple of weeks at long-term care or skilled nursing facilities, Bodily said. None of those outbreaks, though, have contributed to current death numbers.
Idaho flu season activity peaked in mid-February this year and has been consistently trending downward since then. That’s later than the typical peak of mid-to-late January.
Statewide, 38 deaths have been reported during flu season, as of the week ending March 16 — the most recent data available. All but two were among those older than 50. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare tracks flu season data in a weekly report on its website.
Nearly 2 percent of outpatient visits and 6.94 percent of emergency department visits were for influenza-like illnesses for the week ending March 16.
Last winter was dominated by a nasty kind of flu, and the vaccine’s weakness against it was one reason it was the deadliest flu season in at least four decades, the Associated Press reported in February. An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications.
Health experts say this has been a milder flu season and the vaccine has been more effective.
Nationwide this flu season, a milder strain has been the most common cause of flu illnesses, the Associated Press reported March 8. But health officials then started seeing more illnesses tied to a strain that tends to cause more hospitalizations and deaths, especially among the elderly.
Earlier this month, 60 percent of the flu virus samples tested were the more troublesome strain, known as Type A H3N2.
In Idaho, though, those cases have only made up 25.4 percent of positive samples submitted to the state for testing, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The much more common strain has been A/H1N1, which has accounted for 61.3 percent of positive samples.
Even though peak flu season has passed, cases in the U.S. have been reported as late as May, Bodily said.
It’s still important to make sure you’ve received the flu vaccine, practice good personal hygiene habits — such as washing hands — and wiping down office supplies, doorknobs and other commonly-used surfaces, and staying home while sick, she said. “It’s important to be vigilant at all times.”