Far fewer flu cases this year, doctors still suggest vaccination

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SALT LAKE CITY -- If it hasn't seemed like the typical season of sickness in Utah this winter, it hasn't been. At least that's what doctors on the front lines are saying, and numbers from the state appear to back that up - at least when it comes to influenza.

Officials at the Utah Department of Health confirmed Monday there have been 23 influenza hospitalizations statewide this flu season, compared to the 200 to 300 that are normally seen by January or February.

"Not as much going on with influenza as we have seen," said Becky Ward, health educator with the department's Bureau of Epidemiology.

Ward was quick to warn that the current trend isn't guaranteed to equal a less severe flu season.

"Just because we haven't seen anything doesn't mean that we won't see an increase later on in the season," Ward said. "For that very reason, we want people to know that it's not too late to be vaccinated."

Influenza cases, Ward said, will be around into May, and the gradual increase that's been observed over the past couple weeks could be the beginning of a late-arriving season.

Hospitalizations by age for 2011-12 flu season
0-4: 4
5-24: 3
25-49: 5
50-64: 7
65+: 4
Total: 23

Source: Utah Department of Health

Still, doctors say it isn't just the flu that has shown up less frequently.

At his West Jordan pediatrics practice, Dr. Keith Ramsey said he has also seen fewer cases of respiratory syncytial virus. Plus, he said, many of the illnesses he has treated have been less severe - requiring fewer hospitalizations.

"It's been milder," Ramsey said. "December was really light. January was light."

Ramsey did say strep cases have been spiking somewhat over the past couple weeks.

Heather and Devin Norman brought in their toddler, Ben, Monday for a diagnosis on a very sore throat and extremely runny nose.

"He's a little one," Heather Norman said. "They stick everything in their mouths, so you never know what they're going to get."

As for influenza, state officials wouldn't speculate on why it has apparently been a milder sick season to date. Ramsey said while there is no data or research to prove it, a mild winter may be making a difference.

"Possibly when it gets colder people cluster inside and spread illness, whereas maybe when it's warmer they go outside more," Ramsey said.

Ramsey also suggested that because the same strains of flu have been showing up this year, perhaps last year's vaccinations are continuing to have an impact.

Regardless, state officials are warning people to get their shots this season.

Ward said the flu vaccine is recommended for anyone over the age of 6 months, and is particularly important for anyone who comes into contact with infants.


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