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North Dakota, Minnesota flu cases remain low this season; uptick expected

Handwashing remains one of the most simple and effective ways to keep germs at bay during the holiday season and any time, really. Forum file photo

BISMARCK — The number of flu cases reported in North Dakota’s current flu season is about half of what it was in the same period last year, but state health officials say cases are starting to tick up.

So far in the the 2018-19 flu season, the state has reported 750 cases. The season will run from Aug. 1, 2018, through July 31, 2019. In the 2017-18 season, however, there were 1,477 reported cases by this time.

There were 136 cases reported during the week ending Dec. 29, compared to just 19 cases reported for the week ending Dec. 8. The flu activity level also has changed from “sporadic” to “regional,” according to the health department’s weekly influenza updates.

“We are starting to see an upward trend in cases being reported,” said Jenny Galbraith, immunization surveillance coordinator at the North Dakota Department of Public Health. “We kind of saw a blip a couple weeks ago, and it went down a little bit. But we are starting to see more cases reported right now.”

More than half of reported cases affected children, according to the state’s most recent influenza update. A strain of the H1N1 virus has predominated this season so far, but it’s too soon to tell if that will continue for the remainder of the season, state health officials wrote in the update.

In addition, North Dakota has reported three flu-related deaths in the most recent flu season.

The number of reported cases in the state only includes people who have tested positive for influenza in a health care setting — meaning there may be several other cases that haven’t been documented.

“Flu is likely very underreported,” Galbraith said. “If you don’t go into the doctor and get tested, we’re not going to know about it. … There are likely quite a few more cases circulating.”

Galbraith added that it’s not too late to get vaccinated against the flu.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, the number of weekly flu-related hospitalizations remains far below figures in previous years. For the week ending Dec. 29, Minnesota reported just 24 hospitalizations compared with more than 500 cases around the same time in the 2017-2018 flu season.

But that’s not to say flu hospitalizations will remain low for the remainder of the year.

“It almost always becomes widespread at some point,” said Doug Schultz, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health. “Every season is different. Last year was a really bad flu year. … It peaked early and hit really hard.”

So far in Minnesota’s 2018-19 flu season, there have been 116 hospitalizations and four deaths, and activity is “starting to increase,” Schultz said.

Minnesota’s 2017-18 flu season peaked at more than 650 hospitalizations. By that season’s end, the state logged more than 6,400 hospitalizations and 435 deaths.

Minnesota’s flu season runs from around October to May, Schultz said.

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