Flu numbers decreasing across state
While flu cases continue to trend downward across the state since January, health officials say the flu season isn't over quite yet.
According to the latest weekly influenza update put out by the North Dakota Department of Health, there were 324 cases reported the week of March 3, bringing the total number of cases for the 2017-18 flu season to 7,067. At the same time last year there were 4,888 flu cases reported.
Michelle Feist, with NDDoH Division of Disease Control, said the total number of cases for the 2016-17 flu season was 7,507. She said it can sometimes be difficult to compare numbers season-to-season because there are differences in testing practices and influenza strains. However, she said she "would not be surprised" if this year's season surpasses last year's.
Feist said it is likely that the influenza season peaked at the end of January. She added that influenza B activity is increasing, with more than half of the reported influenza cases for the week ending March 3 being influenza B. An increase in influenza B is typical for this part of the season, Feist said.
"We haven't had long-term care outbreaks reported to us for a couple weeks, which is a good sign," she said. "But we definitely want to remind people there is still flu across the state and that will continue for some weeks."
The NDDoH also obtains influenza and pneumonia death information from state Vital Records data. According to the data, there has been 308 pneumonia-related deaths reported in North Dakota and 20 flu-related deaths. Although a variety of pathogens can cause severe pneumonia, it is known that influenza can contribute considerably to the number of pneumonia deaths even when influenza is not diagnosed or coded on the death certificate. Feist said the flu-related death numbers are "imperfect" and said the pneumonia-related death numbers were not abnormally high. She said there have been no pediatric flu-related deaths reported to the NDDoH.
There have also been 249 influenza-related hospitalizations reported for the 2017-18 season. Hospitalization status for influenza cases is not required to be reported, the report stated.
Visitor restrictions were lifted last week at CHI St. Alexius in Dickinson. The visitor restrictions were originally announced in January due to the severity of this year's influenza strain. Children were previously prohibited from visiting patient rooms/areas and visitation was restricted to immediate family. Visitors were also asked to wear a mask.
DeeAnna Opstedahl, with CHI St. Alexius-Dickinson, said flu numbers have decreased "dramatically" since the restrictions were put in place.
"We just expect the numbers to continually go down (for the rest of the flu season)," she said.
Opstedahl said while it is always better to get your flu shot early, it is still recommended to get one now.
"We encourage the flu shot no matter when it is," she said. "It can last long enough to protect you later. You want to get it as soon as you can to avoid getting the flu. Even if you do get the flu, you usually won't have it as bad as you would have if you didn't get the flu shot because it does help provide your body with a little bit of resistance to it."
For more information on flu cases in North Dakota, visit www.ndflu.com.