TWIN FALLS — Idaho has seen 18 deaths due to flu-related complications so far this season, affecting every region of the state except south-central Idaho.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s less flu activity locally, said Logan Hudson, nurse manager at South Central Public Health District. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare classifies activity as “very high” in south-central Idaho and most other parts of the state.
This season, local flu activity has recently peaked, Hudson said. That’s a little later than usual. Typically, the peak is in mid-to-late January, he said.
Here in the Magic Valley, a handful of schools — North Valley Academy in Gooding, Gooding School District, Kimberly School District, Camas County School District in Fairfield and Twin Falls Christian Academy (a private school) — closed for one or more days within the last month due to student and staff illnesses, but most didn’t specify what type of illness was circulating.
In Kimberly and for Twin Falls Christian Academy, though, it was predominately flu-like symptoms.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare tracks flu season data in a weekly report available on its website. Of the flu-related deaths this season, 17 of 18 were among people older than 50.
“Locally, we don’t have any deaths listed right now, which is a good thing,” Hudson said Friday. That doesn’t necessarily mean the flu hasn’t been a contributing factor in other deaths, he said.
The flu vaccine is doing a relatively good job this season, protecting about half the people who got it, U.S. health officials said earlier this month, according to a Feb. 14 Associated Press story.
Preliminary figures suggest the vaccine is 47 percent effective in preventing flu illness severe enough to send someone to the doctor’s office. Health officials are generally pleased if a flu vaccine works in 40 to 60 percent of people.
Somewhere between 10,000 and 16,000 people have died from flu and its complications so far this season, according to new estimates.
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. An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications.
“Last year’s flu was a little bit of a different year than we’ve had in quite a while,” Hudson said. The vaccine was a little helpful, he said, but not as helpful as health officials would have liked.
This winter, in most parts of the country, most illnesses are being caused by a somewhat milder virus that vaccines tend to perform better against.
Overall, flu is widespread in 47 states, according to the most recent CDC data. Health officials don’t know if flu season has peaked yet, Fry said.
Across Idaho, nearly 9 percent of emergency department visits have been for influenza-like illness, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. “We can assume that’s probably what we’re at, as well,” Hudson said.
The most common strain of the flu this season in Idaho and nationwide is H1N1 — a similar strain to what was circulating in 2009.
For the week ending Feb. 16, 71.4 percent of the specimens submitted here in Idaho for testing were positive for H1N1.
Protection against H1N1 is included in this year’s vaccine, Hudson said, and it wasn’t in 2009. “The vaccine is showing some promise this year. It’s protecting pretty well.”
This year’s flu vaccine is still available if you haven’t gotten a flu shot, Hudson said, adding studies have shown if you get the vaccination but still end up becoming ill with the flu, the illness will be far less severe.