Locals may be heading out of town for spring break, but the flu is sticking around.
“We’re not done yet,” Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti. “We’re still seeing active, pretty high levels of flu activity across Wyoming and we have been for some time now.”
The activity mirrors national trends — “There’s nothing exotic or different going on here that’s not going on in other places, too,” Deti said — but the dominant strain switched partway through the flu season.
This year’s vaccine was formulated to include four strains: H3N2, H1N1, Influenza A and Influenza B. Early in the season H1N1 was the predominant strain reported; now virus subtype H3N2 is popping up more frequently.
“Different strains can affect different groups of people,” Deti said. “They’re tricky little devils.”
Flu seasons where H3N2 takes the lead are “historically more severe,” she said.
Flu season across the country tends to start in October, peak between December and February and last until May. Department of Health staff have anecdotally reported activity has “plateaued and continued,” Deti said, but the department’s weekly influenza report hasn’t been formally updated since Feb. 1.
Teton County was listed with a weekly case rate of greater than 100 people per 100,000 at last reporting, but the data paints an incomplete picture of impact across the state.
True levels are likely higher, as not all health care providers report influenza, though it is a reportable disease in the state, and those who do report don’t do it consistently. On the other end, not all patients are accounted for — many who come down with the flu don’t visit an office or clinic, Deti said.
The most reliable statistic to measure flu severity is death rates, which are accounted for after the season is over, she said.
Wyoming and Montana are seeing “moderate” levels of flu activity for the week ending March 16, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Neighboring Idaho, South Dakota and Nebraska have low activity, while Utah and Colorado have high.
While flu shots are not an “ironclad guarantee,” Deti said, “they are the best tool we have available.”
It might be tough to find a vaccination if you haven’t already. The Teton County Health Department was down to one or two doses earlier this week. Make sure to check with your local provider for availability; pharmacies may also have the vaccine in stock.
“If you’re able to find a vaccine, we would never tell someone to not get that vaccine,” Deti said. “We also want people to know that it takes two weeks for the shot to do its job.”
If you’ve waited until the people around you are sick, “it’s not going to really offer you that protection,” she said.
With or without a vaccination, good hygiene — hand washing, coughing into a tissue or the crook of your elbow, and what can often be the hardest one, staying home from work or school — are also effective in halting the spread of the flu.