Levi Schlosser

As of the last week of December, North Dakota recorded 218,348 influenza vaccines administered, which was a considerable dip from the last flu season, according to Levi Schlosser, respiratory and syndromic surveillance epidemiologist for the N.D. Health and Human Services’ Division of Disease Control. Only 54% of seniors 65 and older have received the shot, but for ages 19-49, that number is down to 19%.

Schlosser said flu activity markers have started to increase in the most recent weeks. More individuals are seeking medical care for their symptoms and the state is seeing higher cases of hospitalizations and deaths due to influenza. He said Health and Human Services is seeing lower vaccination rates than what they would like to see, which may contribute to an influenza rise in the upcoming weeks.

During the last week of December, North Dakota saw 1,004 lab-confirmed cases of influenza, 324 of which were seen in Ward County. Though statewide cases are seeing a dip from the previous season, which saw 1,890 cases the same week, Schlosser said it doesn’t mean numbers are going to trend downward anytime soon.

Typically, the state’s influenza activity peaks between February and March. However, in most recent seasons, Health and Human Services has seen the peak happen earlier, toward the end of December. Schlosser said each flu season is a little different, but the state could see trends returning to what used to be considered typical.

According to the most recent influenza report from N.D. Health and Human Services, 3.95% of statewide outpatient care is being provided to individuals with flu symptoms.

“Influenza can be a very mild illness but it can also be very severe and cause a really wide range of symptoms for those who are ill. It’s not just influenza but it’s also other respiratory bugs like RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, and COVID-19,” Schlosser said.

Shared symptoms between the three illnesses include fever, cough, shortness of breath and fatigue. He said severe symptoms in very young children, such as body aches and fatigue, can be difficult to detect, but signs to look out for are hard breathing and flared nostrils.

Schlosser said individuals who are at high risk, such as those who are very young or very old, or individuals with underlying health conditions, should consider talking to their healthcare providers sooner to seek antiviral treatment to prevent illness from developing into pneumonia. Last flu season saw 482 flu and pneumonia deaths. Those deaths sit at 262 for this season, according to the most recent report.

Schlosser said preventing the spread of illness is important, starting with staying up to date with vaccines. Other important practices include washing hands with antibacterial soap, staying home from work and school when ill and covering coughs and sneezes.

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