The North Dakota Department of Health has reported widespread influenza activity for the first time this influenza season and is reminding everyone that it is not too late to be vaccinated.
"In the last few weeks we have seen a dramatic increase reported cases, and cases are being reported to us from providers across the state," said Jill Baber, Influenza Surveillance coordinator for the Department of Health. As of Jan. 9, 2014, there have been 843 cases of laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza that have been reported since Sept. 1, 2013, up from 88 cases only about a month ago on Dec. 19, she continued. In addition, people with mild illness do not always go to a doctor and doctors do not always test for influenza, so these cases are only a portion of the total cases for North Dakota, Baber said.
According to the Department of Health, additional laboratory testing of influenza samples has shown the Influenza A 2009 H1N1 pandemic strain is circulatingso far this season, along with a small number of Influenza A H3N2 and Influenza B strains. This is the first year since the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic that this strain has been responsible for a majority of cases.
"With the 2009 H1N1 pandemic strain, we see more children and young to middle-aged adults affected than is typical for flu," Baber said.
Over at Trinity Hospital and Trinity Homes in Minot, steps are being taken to protect patients and residents from the flu virus. Effective immediately, Trinity is asking people with respiratory illnesses to avoid visiting the hospital or nursing home and if they must to wear a mask.
Dr. Casmiar Nwaigwe, infectious disease specialist and director of Trinity's infection control program, said the voluntary measures are necessary in light of a recent spike in flu cases in the community.
"There's been a recent uptick in cases of influenza, particularly the H1N1 strain," Nwaigwe said. "Our infection control committee determined it would be in the best interests of our patients and residents to limit exposure from outside visitors, which can be a potential source of infection."
Under the measures, people with respiratory illnesses are advised not to visit patients in the hospital or nursing home unless absolutely necessary. If people must visit, they are asked to wear a mask. Masks and hand sanitizer will be provided at hospital and nursing home entrances for patients and visitors with respiratory conditions.
Vaccination is the most effective way to avoid the flu, according to both the Department of Health and Nwaigwe. Yearly vaccination is recommended since immunity can wane. The Department of Health also recommends frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when you are sick to prevent spread of influenza. Common signs and symptoms of influenza include abrupt onset of fever, muscle aches, sore throat and cough.