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David Goldman, AP file

Smart thermometer company reports Utah is 'sickest in the nation'; officials disagree

By Wendy Leonard, KSL | Posted - Dec 27th, 2018 @ 3:51pm



SALT LAKE CITY — A health technology company that manufactures smart thermometers says Utah is "the sickest in the nation," but the Utah Department of Health can't confirm that the Beehive State is the top hot spot for flu.

"We're not denying that it is increasing, and we're likely to see more cases in the coming weeks, but we are definitely not the sickest like they are reporting," said Becky Ward, a health educator with the Utah Department of Health, which reports flu-like symptoms to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She did confirm that two children in Utah have died this season, one of them recently, as a result of influenza.

San Francisco-based Kinsa reported Thursday that thermometer use, body temperatures and other symptoms automatically reported to the company are up in Utah.

However, the CDC is actually reporting "low" flu activity in Utah. It is much higher in other states, including in Colorado, California, Alabama, Georgia and more. Idaho, Nevada and Arizona are also reporting higher numbers of the illness circulating, according to the latest weekly report from the CDC.

The latest state reports reveal that 61 Utahns have been hospitalized with influenza since Oct. 1, when the Utah Department of Health typically begins surveillance of the highly contagious respiratory illness. Most of those cases, Ward said, are in older Utahns and those with other compromised health conditions.

The state health department and CDC track flu-related deaths in children up to 18 years old. Neither releases names or other identifying information on the child patients.

So far this season nationally, there have been eight pediatric deaths related to influenza, with two of those in Utah, Ward said. The CDC, however, has yet to record the latest child death due to the flu in Utah.

H1N1, the swine flu strain that popped up and infected thousands in 2009, is the most popular strain throughout the country and in Utah. Some areas, Ward said, are reporting H3N2.

In all of the 2017-18 flu season, 65 percent of Utahns were vaccinated against influenza, according to the health department. The vaccine, Ward said, always contains protection against H1N1 and even if a vaccinated person contracts another strain, symptoms may be less severe because of their choice to be vaccinated.

"We haven't seen anything to note that (the vaccine) is not effective this year," she said.

Influenza typically peaks during the holidays, with high rates continuing through February, as people are often in close quarters through the winter season.

Ward said proper hand washing, in addition to being vaccinated, is key, as well as wiping down shared surfaces and avoiding crowds whenever possible. It is also important for people to take care of themselves, including staying hydrated and getting the rest they need, she said.

"Influenza is starting to increase," Ward said. "We're likey going to see more cases nationwide and in Utah."

The thermometer company, Kinsa, reported Thursday that 5.7 percent of Utah's population, over 182,400 people, are experiencing flu-like symptoms. It reports that Salt Lake City is "getting hit the hardest in Utah."

Kinsa has collected more than 10 million anonymous temperature readings — averaging 40,000 per day during last year's flu season — allowing it to track outbreaks throughout the country in real time by studying aggregate data of where fever and other symptoms are popping up.

Nationally, 4.4 percent of the U.S. population is ill, Kinsa reported Thursday, with Utah being sickest, Florida second-sickest and New Mexico ranked third, according to the company.

Flu shots become available in October throughout Utah, but Ward said if a person has yet to get one, "it's not too late."

"Just get vaccinated," she said. The health department encourages anyone 6 months of age and older to get a flu shot every year.

To find a provider nearby, visit vaccinefinder.org.

Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches or pains, headaches, and/or general fatigue, according to the CDC. It can last up to two weeks and can cause complications in people with underlying conditions, specifically asthma and other chronic medical conditions.

While the influenza season typically peaks between December and February every year, the Utah Department of Health health tracks influenza data into May.

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