Flu cases are picking up in Wyoming after an abnormally deadly year, and health officials are urging people to get vaccinated.
In the 2017-18 flu season, 27 people — including one child — died due to flu-related conditions in Wyoming. Five of those deaths were in Natrona County. The numbers thus far in this flu season remain low, spokeswoman Kim Deti said Thursday, but the Health Department is seeing an uptick in reports in the central and northeastern parts of the state.
Deti declined to compare this season’s start to last year’s because of the amount of variables that can affect the count. A flu season typically begins in the late fall and lasts until the spring, with the peak falling in mid-winter.
Last flu season was particularly deadly for Wyoming — which saw the most associated deaths since 2014-15 — and for the nation as a whole. The mortality rate was above epidemic levels nationally in mid-winter, and at least 172 American children died from causes related to influenza, the highest number since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tracking it in 2004.
Even when the common strain of influenza isn’t completely covered by the vaccine, as was the case last year, health officials still urge vaccinations.
“Nearly everyone six months or older should get a seasonal flu vaccine,” state epidemiologist Alexia Harrist said in a statement. “Flu shots are safe and the most important action people can take to help prevent getting ill with influenza and passing it on to others. In addition to helping you avoid the flu in the first place, vaccines can also help make illnesses less severe for those who do still get sick.”
Influenza is a viral, contagious, respiratory illness that presents with headaches, a fever, sore throat, runny nose and other symptoms. Flu is especially dangerous for “young children, older adults, persons with chronic medical conditions, persons with challenged immune systems, pregnant women, persons less than 19 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy for other conditions, those who are extremely overweight, and residents of nursing homes or other chronic-care facilities,” according to the Health Department.
Last season, 18 of the 27 flu-related deaths in Wyoming were people over 65, and the median age was 75.
“The severity of this influenza season highlights the importance of public health measures to control and prevent influenza,” CDC researchers wrote earlier this year after the worst of the flu season had passed. “Annual influenza vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent influenza illness.”
Other effective ways to avoid spreading the illness include staying home from work or school if you feel ill; covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing; and frequently washing your hands, according to the Health Department.