Alaska yet to see worst of flu season

It’s been a rough flu season across the country, with widespread flu activity reported in 49 states and a particularly severe strain of the virus circulating.

Alaska has not been hit as hard as some states by the virus, but could experience an uptick in cases later in the season, said Leslie Felts, Nurse Manager for the Kenai Sub-region of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Division of Public Health.

The past two flu seasons in Alaska have seen spikes in March and April, according to data from the Department of Health and Social Services.

In 2018, lab-confirmed cases in Alaska had been on a downward trajectory statewide, but the last week of January showed an increase from the previous week, according to the Alaska Division of Public Health Influenza Report for the week ending Jan. 27. The percent of visits for influenza-like illness reported in outpatient settings for the last week of January also showed an increase from the previous week. Since November, outpatient reports of flu-like illness have increased from about 3 percent to 5 percent in Alaska.

That number is still lower than the national estimate for people seeking outpatient care for flu-like illness of about 6.6 percent — the highest since the 2009 peak of 7.7 percent, according to a Jan. 26 update provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu season this year also poses a particular danger because the predominate strain of virus circulating — H3N2 — typically causes more doctor visits, hospitalizations and deaths. In seasons that look similar to this year, approximately 34 million people have contracted the flu. In years with a predominance of H3N2, the CDC estimates 56,000 people died from the virus.

With the end of the flu season still only about half-way through, the CDC recommends getting the flu shot. To prevent the spread of the virus, people should also wash hands, cover coughs and stay home from work or school when sick.

Reach Erin Thompson at erin.thompson@peninsulaclarion.com.

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