Weld County health officials are encouraging residents to get a flu shot after two Weld residents died from complications related to the virus in just more than a month.
The number of people who have been hospitalized with the flu in Weld since Jan. 1 has grown to 37. Flu season officially begins in October, and since then the county has seen 60 people hospitalized, county health department spokesman Eric Aakko said Thursday.
“This is typical to have increases (in diagnosed cases of the flu) this time of year,” Aakko said. “The flu is highly unpredictable and some years can have several waves throughout the season.”
Aakko said the second flu death of the season happened within roughly the past week. He also said flu deaths aren’t regularly tracked by the state so he couldn’t say how that number compared to other areas.
Last flu season, 126 people were hospitalized in Weld because of the flu. That number was a spike from the previous two flu seasons when 35 and 78 people were hospitalized in the 2011-12 and 2010-11 flu seasons, according to numbers from the health department. Since the beginning of this flu season, Larimer County had seen 34 hospitalizations as of Jan. 6.
“Almost 80 percent of those hospitalized in Larimer County this year are under age 65. This is different from last year’s flu season where over 70 percent of those hospitalized with influenza A(H3N2) were over 65,” Larimer County Health Department Director Adrienne LeBailly said.
As of Jan. 4, a total of 748 hospitalizations for the flu had been reported statewide, predominantly from the H1N1 strain of the virus, which was responsible for the 2009 flu pandemic, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The current flu vaccine contains antibodies to protect against the H1N1 strain, as well as two other strains of the disease.
Aakko said the ongoing outbreak of pertussis — commonly known as whooping cough — throughout the county, state and nation, is making things more complicated.
“People might have a bad cough and a high fever, and it could be pertussis or the flu,” Aakko said. “That’s why we’re telling people to get the flu vaccine. It’s not too late. People certainly should get the pertussis vaccine, too. The two separate vaccines can help with the two diseases.”
He said vaccinations are available at the county health department, most pharmacies and through primary care physicians.
“There are no shortages we’re aware of. Everyone seems to have enough (of the vaccine),” he said. “We want to stress that people stay home if they are sick, cover their cough, wash their hands, get adequate sleep and exercise and eat healthy.”
North Colorado Medical Center spokesman Gene Haffner said the hospital has seen an increase of emergency room visits with flu-like symptoms or respiratory-type illnesses so far in January. He said the hospital has 10 people admitted as inpatients who have tested positive for the flu.
The state health department has mandated that all healthcare entities licensed by the department have their employees vaccinated against the flu, but it provides exemptions for employees who opt out on health or religious grounds.
In anticipation of the flu season, Greeley-Evans School District 6 has done trainings with building managers to remind them of cleaning protocol during the cold and flu season and are reminding students and staff about covering their mouths when they cough and washing their hands often.
If parents notice symptoms of sickness in their children, the district urges the parents to keep the children out of school and take them to a doctor, district spokeswoman Theresa Myers said.
“Sending them to school sick raises the risk of passing the illness on to other students or staff members,” Myers said. “If (the illness) is caught early, doctors can alleviate the symptoms quicker.”