Flu season continues to linger in Delaware


DOVER — Although it is late in the 2018-19 flu season, and total weekly influenza cases have begun to decrease, flu activity in Delaware and across the United States remains elevated with an increase in the number of influenza A (H3N2) viruses circulating over the last month.

H3N2 viruses are typically associated with more severe illness in older adults, and while anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms should seek treatment quickly, it is especially important for individuals 65 years and older to do so.

As of March 23, the most recent date that data is available, there have been 5,854 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in Delaware during this flu season, 943 of which required hospitalization. These numbers reflect only lab-confirmed cases and the actual number of influenza cases in the state is likely much higher, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.

While this year’s influenza case total is much lower than the 9,051 cases reported during the 2017-18 season – the highest total since record-keeping began in 2004 – the 2018-19 season is now the second-highest on record.

As the total number of flu cases continues to climb, so do flu-related fatalities. This season, 20 Delawareans have passed away as a result of flu-related complications. All 20 were infected with influenza A and all had underlying health conditions or suspected health complications. Their ages ranged from 41 to 90 years old.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that flu illness peaked in February but remains high for this time of year with 34 states, including Delaware, and Puerto Rico reporting widespread flu illnesses. The CDC expects flu activity to remain elevated for weeks.

Levels of flu-like illness in the United States have been at or above baseline for 18 weeks so far this season, on track for a relatively long season, possibly exceeding the previous five-year high of 20 weeks. In terms of severity, the CDC estimates that so far this season there have been as many as 508,000 flu hospitalizations and 46,800 deaths.

Unlike colds, which develop gradually, flu symptoms come on suddenly, and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and body aches, chills and fatigue. Some people develop complications including pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections. People with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and asthma are more susceptible to catching the flu.

DPH encourages Delawareans to take everyday steps to prevent the spread of the flu, such as: practice social distancing if you have cold or flu-like symptoms; wash hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers; cover sneezes and coughs with a tissue, and dispose of tissues immediately; if no tissue is available, sneeze or cough into your inner elbow; take medications as prescribed.

Social distancing means that those sick with the flu should stay home from work, school and other gatherings and not return until they have been free of fever — with a temperature of less than 100 degrees F (37.8 degrees C) without the use of fever-reducing medications for at least 24 hours.

The CDC and DPH continue to recommend vaccination as long as influenza viruses are circulating and emphasize that it is not unusual for a second wave of flu activity during a flu season. The second wave is usually caused by an influenza B virus. This season, there has been very little influenza B virus activity.

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