Flu still an issue in Wyoming

By Patrick Filbin

Gillette News Record

Via Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — Influenza continues to be an issue in Wyoming as spring begins and the weather starts to warm up.

However, information on how many flu cases there has been since December has been difficult to track.

Kim Deti, spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health, said that because many people with flu-like symptoms aren’t tested for influenza and many people don’t seek medical attention when they are sick, the number of reported cases of the flu is likely lower than the actual number.

The Department of Health has changed the way it reports flu activity. In previous years, the department published weekly data on the number of flu cases per county. Now, the Department of Health does not issue those reports because they aren’t as meaningful as previously thought, Deti said.

Even so, Deti said the flu season is still active and that is affecting dozens of Wyomingites.

“We are still in an active flu season in Wyoming and we’re seeing a long one,” Deti said.

Deti said that some things about the flu can be predictable while others can’t. For instance, the department knows every year that people will become sick from the flu but the timing and severity can vary.

The official flu season is October to May and the peaks come in the heart of winter.

Deti said Wyoming is experiencing a plateau of the flu season. This season, flu strain H1N1 — infamous in 2009 for creating a flu epidemic — was prevalent in Wyoming. Now the state is seeing more strains of H3N2.

“Different strains can affect different groups of people,” Deti said.

She said there have been a number of confirmed flu-related deaths in Wyoming, but the Department of Health won’t know the total amount until summer. There have been no pediatric flu-related deaths.

Walgreens puts Wyoming at the top of flu list

A recent report from Walgreens listed Wyoming as the leading state for flu counts in the country.

The Walgreens Flu Index is now in its fifth season and was developed as a tool for consumers, health officials and the media to track flu activity.

The index is compiled using the drugstore chain’s weekly retail prescription data for antiviral medications used to treat influenza across Walgreens and Duane Reade locations nationwide.

According to the latest index released March 23, Wyoming leads the way for flu cases followed by Montana and Washington.

Deti said that relying on the Walgreens report can be dangerous because it only accounts for flu cases where people have a prescription.

“Most people who are ill don’t go to the doctor, especially in Wyoming,” she said. “Not every town has a Walgreens so things like that aren’t always statistically accurate.”

She added that the report could be an indicator that flu season is continuing in Wyoming.

Deti suggested the following preventive measures people should take as the long flu season continues:

If you have to cough, cough into a tissue or your elbow, not into your hands;

Wash your hands frequently, and

If you are ill, it is highly advised you stay at home from work or school to prevent passing the illness on to classmates or coworkers.