Flu season hitting Utah hard, early

Published: Monday, Jan. 7 2013 8:25 p.m. MST

Influenza season typically peaks around late January and February, but the trend this year has shown flu activity to be significantly higher than the past few years, with the exception of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

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SALT LAKE CITY — This flu season is hitting Utah hard, health officials warn.

Influenza season typically peaks around late January and February, but the trend this year has shown flu activity to be significantly higher than the past few years, with the exception of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, said Rebecca Ward, health educator at the Utah Department of Health.

In fact, this season's flu activity is occurring earlier than usual, with 117 hospitalized cases reported in Utah since September, Ward said. 

By the final week of December, the flu had hit 41 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Utah was among the highest states with influenza-like illness activity.

Ultimately, it's hard to tell how severe this year's flu season will be, said Tom Skinner with the CDC. "But judging by the pace we are going, it looks like we will see a moderate to severe flu season."

By the end of December, outpatient visits for flu symptoms had climbed to nearly 20 percent in Utah, and flu-related child and infant deaths had reached about 6.5 percent according to the CDC.

The particular strain of influenza circulating this year is H3N2, which tends to be more severe in children and the elderly, Skinner said. Symptoms include runny nose, rapid fever, sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue.

Canyons School Distict spokesman Jeff Haney said he has noticed a fluctuation in attendance numbers.

"Today, in some locations, we saw an uptick of absences due to the flu or just illness in general," Haney said.

Other school districts, however, have remained relatively unaffected. Though there could be a slight increase in absenteeism, "we're not seeing any huge aberrations in our attendance statistics," said Ben Horsley, Granite School District spokesman.

This year, absences increased nearly two absenses per 100 people per day, according to Utah Department of Health.

Brittany Peay, an art student at the University of Utah, will be spending her first day of school home in bed with a box of Saltines and a fever. Where did she catch it? She has no idea. 

"I was in Vegas recently and heard of friends who had the flu. Many of my neighbors have it too. I thought I was fine," Peay said. 

In Vineyard, the entire Zabriskie family recently came down with the flu.

"I first caught it Thursday. My oldest came down with a fever on Friday, quickly followed by my youngest and my husband," said Kristen Zabriskie, a pregnant mother of two, ages 2 months and 7 months.

"We've been doing the humidifier and Tylenol thing," she said. "To a certain point, all you can do is boil water and try to keep them in bed until the fever subsides."

Next year, Zabriskie said she plans to make sure her sons receive a flu shot.

"So far, this season's vaccine is a good match for circulating viruses," Skinner said.

A list of clinics where immunizations are still available can be found through the Utah Department of Health's flu vaccination locator.

"People can go there and get a flu shot, whether a public clinic or Smith's or Walgreens," Ward said.

Daily preventive actions can stop germ spreading, the CDC advises. Such actions include covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing; throwing the tissue in the trash after using it; washing hands with soap and water; and avoiding touching the eyes, nose or mouth.

If sick, the CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities.

E-mail: rlowry@desnews.com

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