This year’s flu season has long since peaked, but flu isn’t done with us yet.
Delaware public health officials are urging people to take measures to prevent spread of the viral disease after three more flu-related deaths were reported among the state’s residents in the last two weeks of March.
The deaths involved people ages 80 to 99 with multiple underlying health problems. They brought the season’s total to 34 flu-related deaths in Delaware. The most reported in a previous season was 28 in 2014-15.
Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services said people with flu symptoms should stay away from others.
“We want to make sure that people who are ill stay home from work or stay home from school,” said Jill Fredel, director of communications for the department. People who have been sick should keep to themselves until their temperature has been below 100 degrees for at least 24 hours without medication. They should cough or sneeze into a tissue or their inner elbow and wash hands frequently.
Fredel said the department is hoping to avoid a “second wave” of illness late in the season.
Seasons often start with a higher proportion of influenza A cases, which tend to cause more serious illness. Influenza B often causes more illness late in the season. All three of the latest Delaware deaths were related to influenza B.
Flu season typically lasts until early May.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said flu activity peaked in early February. As of the end of March, the CDC listed New Jersey and Pennsylvania as having low levels of influenza-like illness and Delaware as having minimal levels. However, it also said that in Delaware the virus was spreading in a wide geographic area. By this measure, New Jersey and Pennsylvania had regional flu activity. Flu activity is still high in northwest and east central New Jersey.
A total of 142 pediatric deaths have been reported to the CDC this flu season, including six in Pennsylvania and three in New Jersey. Pennsylvania has also reported 209 adult flu-related deaths.
The percentage of visits to emergency departments due to flu-like symptoms in the region is far down from the peak, but still higher than normal.
Public health officials disagree about whether it’s still a good idea to get the flu vaccine. It takes two weeks for the shot to take full effect. This year’s shot has not been particularly effective for the strain of influenza A that dominated earlier in the season. It works considerably better for influenza B.
Fredel and Nate Wardle, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, didn’t see much point in getting the shot now, but Tina Tan, state epidemiologist for the New Jersey Department of Health, said it is “absolutely not” too late to get vaccinated. “As long as flu is still circulating within the community, it’s still not too late to get the flu shot,” she said.