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Early Flu Season
If it seems like everyone you know is coming down with the flu and it`s not too far from the truth. The number of cases reported has nearly doubled from just last week at 1,077. The flu season has hit in North Dakota early, and hard. As bad as the numbers seem, it doesn`t necessarily mean the flu season is any worse than usual.
Influenza is fairly easy to test for and Ken Irmen has been doing a lot of that testing lately. "That old adage, the only things certain are death and taxes, I think influenza is right up there with those groups because we always have an influenza season."
This year the flu season is peaking earlier than usual. More than 1,000 cases have been reported in the state so far, up from just a dozen at this point last year. "We`re still peaking right now. It won`t drop for another couple weeks," Irmen said.
But just because the numbers are high doesn`t mean the season is worse.
"It just means most likely the influenza season came early. It doesn`t mean it`ll be more severe or we`ll have more cases than years past. This is not an unusual time of year to see the flu," said ND Health Department Epidemiologist Lindsey VanderBusch.
Fewer than half of North Dakotans typically get the flu shot. The predominant strain circulating this year, H3N2, is covered in the vaccine. But the vaccine isn`t 100 percent effective. So it is still possible to get the flu, even if you had the flu shot. "Influenza is a shifty virus. It`s able to mutate its outer antigens. That`s what your immune system sees when it enters your body, those outermost antigens. It`s able to modify and mutate those slightly every year," Irmen said.
Getting the shot can still keep the influenza virus you get from being as serious and helps keep the virus from circulating as widely.
"The more people who are vaccinated for the flu, the better protection it serves," VanderBusch said.
In a typical flu season, about 20 percent of the population will get sick. In North Dakota, that`s meant about 2,500 to 3,500 confirmed flu cases every season.
Health officials say it`s not too late to get the flu shot this year and that may help protect you against Influenza which is different from what`s often called the stomach flu. A different virus, Norovirus, or stomach flu, is also circulating right now. The flu shot won`t help with that.