Slow start to flu season in Utah, but worse yet to come

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The first two months of the flu season have been mild in Utah, but health officials are cautioning that it's likely to get worse over the next two months.

Only 34 people have been hospitalized with the flu from October through Dec. 26, shows data from Utah Department of Health. At the same time last year, several hundred people had been hospitalized.

Utah's slow start mirrors what health officials are seeing around the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this month that only South Carolina is showing significant flu-related traffic at doctor's offices and clinics.

Gregg Reed, epidemiologist with Utah Department of Health, said they are cautiously optimistic but warns that this flu season is likely to peak in February. That is a more typical cycle for flu seasons, unlike the past three years when the season peaked before the new year.

Most flu seasons ratchet up around Christmas, likely because of holiday parties that spread viruses and the return of children to school where germs spread among classmates.

The good news about the slow start, health officials say, is that people who haven't gotten flu shots can still get them and be protected.

"Get your flu vaccine. Wash your hands. Stay home if you're sick" Reed said.

Health officials don't know for sure why the season has started slower this year, but one theory is that this year's vaccine included protections against the viruses circulating, Reed said. That's not always the case with the unpredictable illness.

"Our vaccine appears to be a good match," Reed said.

By the end of flu season last year, 1,379 people had been hospitalized. That was a major increase over the previous two years: 833 people were hospitalized with the flu in 2013-2014; and 985 in 2012-2013, state data shows.

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