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January 08. 2014 7:37PM

Flu and norovirus cases on the rise in NH, but not ‘epidemic’

CONCORD — After a slow start, the flu season appears to now be in full swing in New Hampshire.

State public health officials say the flu is officially widespread, with six of the state’s 10 counties reporting a significant uptick in influenza cases in the past week. “We are reporting widespread activity this week,” said Christine Adamski, chief of infectious disease control for the state of New Hampshire. “All our indicators ... have suggested the flu is widely spread around the state.” At the same time, Adamski said, flu cases remain well below the state’s “epidemic threshold.”

The flu outbreak is not confined to the Granite State. Influenza has been reported as widespread in more than two dozen states in the past couple weeks.

The outbreak comes as the region is just emerging from a bitter cold snap, and as students return to school.

In addition to the influenza virus, health authorities are reporting a rise in norovirus cases, which affects the digestive system.

Manchester City Health Director Tim Soucy said as children again fill classrooms, there are heightened concerns about the spread of both influenza and the norovirus. “Once you’re getting people congregating indoors who may be coughing or sneezing or not washing hands properly, there is that concern,” Soucy said.

“The prevention messages are the same,” Soucy added. “If you’re sick, stay home from work (and school); if you’re getting sicker or developing a fever contact your doctor; hand washing for preventing both viruses; and cough etiquette, so you’re coughing into your sleeve, not on someone.”

Adamski stressed that it’s not too late to get vaccinated, and she noted that the current vaccine was formulated to combat H1N1 influenza, the strain that broke out in 2009 and appears to be the most prevalent this season.

Adamski noted that the H1N1 strain affects middle-aged adults and children more so than other flu strains, which typically have a greater impact on the elderly. For this reason, she said the general public needs to be on guard for the tell-tale flu symptoms — fever, cough, aching all over.

Adamski acknowledged that getting vaccinated doesn’t guarantee one won’t get the flu. “We know the vaccine is not 100 percent, but it is one of the most important steps one can take,” she said. “Someone might still get the flu, but it will likely be less severe and it’s less likely to have complications.”Adamski said it’s hard to say what role the bitter cold has played in the latest outbreak.

“I have heard it suggested that when it’s very cold and there’s reduced humidity it may allow the virus to hang around longer,” she said. “But we also know in the colder months we’re indoors more,” where the virus can more easily be spread to other people.

Just two weeks ago, health authorities were reporting a mild flu season, at least compared to the same time last year, when the country was in the throes of an outbreak that led to several fatalities, including three New Hampshire children.

It’s too early to say whether the flu is season has reached its peak. “We really don’t know if we’re at the peak until the season is over,” Adamski said. “We do have outlier seasons. But most commonly, January and February tend to be those peak months.”tsiefer@unionleader.com


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