Flu season began peaking last week in New Hampshire, prompting public health officials to remind residents that it is not too late to get vaccinated.
So far, the Granite State is faring better than most of the country — there have been no influenza-related deaths, and it is one of only three states where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified flu activity as minimal.
But the state’s Department of Health and Human Services upgraded its assessment of the influenza impact from regional to widespread for the first time last week, said Beth Daly, chief of the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control.
“We’re starting to see significant increases in influenza-like illnesses in our state, so we’re calling it widespread,” she said. “We’re on the upswing of the peak. We haven’t peaked yet.”
Hospitals are not required to report influenza-like illnesses so there is no definitive measure of the flu season. But New Hampshire monitors the spread of the viruses through hospitals that voluntarily report a variety of metrics and provide samples for testing.
Data from the week ending Dec. 29 indicates that Influenza A H1N1 is the primary strain in New Hampshire, accounting for nearly 87 percent of the specimens tested by the state’s public health laboratories.
H1N1 was responsible for a flu pandemic in 2009-2010, Daly said, when it was a new strain and not included in the nation’s flu vaccine. The vaccine is now designed to inoculate against H1N1.
About 9 percent of the flu specimens tested in New Hampshire came back positive for Influenza A H3N2, the strain that exacerbated last year’s particularly deadly flu season.
By January 2018, there had been at least five influenza-related deaths in New Hampshire.
The H3N2 strain has been more widespread in the southeastern states.
Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself from the flu, Daly said. Even if you catch a strain that the current vaccine isn’t designed for, it can reduce the severity of symptoms.
The vaccination rate appears to be up this year. The rate of vaccine coverage for children ages 6 months to 17 years was 46 percent in mid-November, a nearly 7 percent increase over last year, according to the CDC. The rate of adult vaccination was 45 percent, an increase of more than 6 percent.
“Now is still an appropriate time to get vaccines,” Daly said. “Based on the testing that CDC has been doing, the strain of influenza that is circulating is the same strain that’s in the vaccine.”
And as always, people should wash their hands frequently and anyone experiencing symptoms of the flu — fever, coughing, or sore throat — should stay home from work or school.