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Flu season 'active' this year, with at least two deaths confirmed

Apr 24, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Two Fremont County residents have died as a result of influenza this year, according to Coroner Ed McAuslan.

A third death may be attributed to flu as well, but McAuslan said he has been unable to substantiate that claim.

"We'll get reports of people with flu-like symptoms, and then at autopsy there's usually another cause that's found," he said.

It is not unusual to see several flu-related deaths annually, McAuslan said.

"Two deaths is not a remarkable situation," he said. "It's not something to start making public releases and things on."

He said this year's cases were not centralized to a specific area of the county, but both took place in 2014.

"They were close together, I guess, and that's what kind of made them stand out this year," McAuslan said. "But you figure you're going to get a couple a year anyway, especially with the elderly people."

He couldn't recall the exact age of this year's two local flu victims, but McAuslan said they were not elderly. He thinks they were dealing with other medical issues, however.

McAuslan also did not know whether the individuals had received a flu shot before the winter season set in.

"That's not something we track ... unless we were to be in an epidemic-type situation," McAuslan said. "We're certainly not that."

Flu cases

Public health nurse Teresa Nirider said Fremont County experienced an "active" flu season this year, though the number of cases were down locally compared to 2012-2013.

As of April 5, the Wyoming Department of Health had recorded 133 cases of flu in Fremont County this season, compared to 394 last year.

Nirider wasn't sure why the number was down, but she hoped it had to do with citizens getting their flu vaccinations and staying home when sick -- as her agency recommends.

"If we saw decreased flu season activity ... then I would say somehow we were successful," she said. "Something worked."

Nirider pointed out that flu shots now are available at locations throughout the area, including grocery store pharmacies.

"We're not the only show in town anymore," she said of her department. "Access to a flu vaccine is very wide. In the past it didn't used to be that way -- you could only get it at a doctor's office or public health."

Vaccinations for children still are available only from a physician or through the public health office, she added.

For anyone who didn't get a flu vaccine this season, Nirider said it is a little late for the shot now, but "it never hurts." She said it is best to get the vaccine in the fall, because it takes two weeks for the body to build up antibodies to beat the virus after getting the shot.

Flu season's hardest onslaught is between November and March, Nirider said, but the virus sometimes stays around through April.

"So it is going to help somebody to get a flu shot right now," Nirider said, "if anybody has flu vaccine available."

She said Fremont County Public Health already has administered all of its available vaccines this year.

"We were out of our flu vaccine probably early February -- which is ideal for us," Nirider said. "That tells us that what we paid money for, we administered, and therefore it's not going to get wasted. There have been years when we've over-bought flu vaccine, and we've had to waste it."

Numbers

This season, the number of flu cases in Fremont County spiked in December and January. During the second week of December, 81 people were diagnosed with flu locally, but in the third week there were 214 cases, up to 252 in the last week of 2013.

The numbers continued to rise in January, with 268 cases in the first week of the month and 303 cases in the second week.

Totals started falling in mid-January, to 258 cases in the third week of the month and 177 cases in the last week of the month.

There were 108 cases in the first week of February, down to 69 the next week.

The numbers have fallen steadily since then, down to 14 cases identified in the first week of April.

Wyoming has recorded 2,153 flu cases since October 2013. Of those, 460 occurred in patients ages 0-4, 343 were age 5-10, 213 were age 11-19, 575 were age 20-39, 418 were age 40-59 and 144 were over 60. The gender split was relatively equal, with 1,085 men and 1,068 women affected by flu.

County by county

Counties with the most incidences of flu included Laramie (542), Campbell (466) and Natrona (280). Fremont County recorded the fourth-most cases in the state this season with 133, followed by Sweetwater County with 129. The rest were in double digits except for Johnson and Niobrara counties, each of which reported only six cases of flu.

Last year Wyoming saw a total of 3,931 cases of flu, with 394 in Fremont County. During the 2011-12 flu season there were 1,112 instances of flu statewide and 45 in Fremont County. The year before that, the numbers were 2,421 and 163, respectively.

According to the WDH, influenza is a contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus that attacks the nose, throat and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness and at times can lead to death.

Symptoms include fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, and body aches.

In general, people who develop influenza-like illness should stay home from work, school or travel until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever without medication, officials say.

Individuals should cover their nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, throw away used tissues, and wash hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand gel.

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