SALT LAKE CITY — This is normally the season for colds and flu, but according to the Utah Department of Health, the number of influenza cases is down significantly for this time of year.

The department confirmed Monday there have been 23 influenza hospitalizations statewide this flu season, compared to the 200 to 300 that are normally seen by January or February.

"Not as much going on with influenza as we have seen," said Becky Ward, health educator with the department's Bureau of Epidemiology. Ward was quick to warn that the current trend isn't guaranteed to equal a less severe flu season.

"Just because we haven't seen anything doesn't mean that we won't see an increase later on in the season," Ward said. 

A gradual increase in flu cases has been observed over the past couple of weeks, which could be the beginning of a late-arriving season.

“Salt Lake County is starting to see an increase in test-confirmed flu cases, and usually we peak for the season at the end of February,” explained Dr. Dagmar Vitek, deputy director and medical officer for Salt Lake Valley Health Department.

Influenza cases will be around until May.

“If someone hasn’t yet been vaccinated this season, it would be a very good idea to do so now,” Vitek said.

Ward said the flu vaccine is recommended for anyone 6 months or older and is particularly important for anyone who comes into contact with infants.

Salt Lake Valley Health Department is dropping the cost of flu shots to $10 to encourage vaccinations and reduce illness. For more information go to www.slvhealth.org.

Still, doctors say it isn't just the flu that has shown up less frequently.

At his West Jordan pediatrics practice, Dr. Keith Ramsey said he has also seen fewer cases of respiratory syncytial virus. Plus, he said, many of the illnesses he has treated have been less severe, requiring fewer hospitalizations.

"It's been milder," Ramsey said. "December was really light. January was light." Ramsey did say strep cases have been spiking somewhat over the past couple weeks.

As for influenza, state officials wouldn't speculate on why it has apparently been a milder sick season to date. Ramsey said while there is no data or research to prove it, a mild winter may be making a difference.

"Possibly when it gets colder people cluster inside and spread illness, whereas maybe when it's warmer they go outside more," Ramsey said.

Ramsey also suggested that because the same strains of flu have been showing up this year, perhaps last year's vaccinations are continuing to have an impact.

E-mail: aadams@ksl.com