By Andrew D. Brosig
Via Wyoming News Exchange
TORRINGTON — Even as the annual flu season winds down, at least one survey had Wyoming ranked third in the nation for cases as of the end of March.
The Walgreens Flu Index for the week ending March 30 put Wyoming behind only Louisiana and West Virginia in cases. The index tracks retail prescription data for antiviral medication used to treat the flu. The company website notes the index illustrates populations experiencing the greatest incidence of flu, not the severity.
“It was a very busy season in northern Colorado, I know that for sure,” said Sara Quale, a spokesperson for Banner Health, which operates Community Hospital in Torrington.
Banner Health had instituted visitation restrictions early in the flu season, which were just lifted Monday. Restricting visitors typically equates to a bad flu season, Quale said.
“We’ve certainly had plenty of flu activity in Wyoming,” said Alexia Harrist, state health officer with the Wyoming Department of Health in Cheyenne. “In recent weeks, we’re starting to see it go down. Hopefully, it will stay down.”
Positive flu tests nationwide peaked around late February and early March, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. This year, Influenza A dominated most of the country, the CDC reported.
Goshen County had one of the greatest incidents of flu cases reported in the state by population at the end of January, the most recent report available on the state Department of Health website. This year was unusual across the state because two separate strains of Influenza A – H1N1 and H3N2 strains – moved through the state, one after the other, Harrist said.
“Usually, it’s one or the other,” she said. “This year, we saw it twice. Instead of a nice sort of sharp peak (in reported cases), it was more of a plateau of activity.
“According to the CDC, we’ve gone in the last two weeks from high levels to more moderate levels of activity,” Harrist continued. “Hopefully, that means the season is slowing down.”
Every year, the CDC tracks which of the many different strains of the influenza virus are predominant in different parts of the world. That data is used to determine which strains will be targeted in the next seasons flu vaccines, Harrist said.
Typical flu vaccines are designed to battle two, three or even four different strains, she said. The vaccines are designed to prevent or, at least, lessen the impacts of catching the flu.
Even if an inoculated person is exposed to a strain of the flu not included in the specific vaccine they received, the mere fact of being vaccinated will probably mean the flu won’t be as serious in their case, Harrist said.
“Vaccinations are still the best way to prevent the flu,” she said. “In general, Wyoming is pretty low in the percentage of people who get vaccinated.
“Any time you get a vaccine, you’re getting protection,” Harrist said. “Even when the vaccine is not a great match (to a specific strain), you get some protection.”