The first flu-related death this season claimed the life an adult over the age of 65 in southeast Nebraska, according to the Southeast District Health Department.
The department covers Johnson, Nemaha, Otoe, Pawnee and Richardson Counties.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Tom Safranek says the influenza-related death underscores the potential seriousness of the disease and the importance of vaccination to reduce the risk of illness, hospitalization and death.
“Right now, we’re early in the season. We think it’s a very appropriate time for individuals to get their flu vaccine. The death that we had underscores the seriousness of influenza and the potential for a very serious health impact.”
Last season, there were 58 flu-related deaths in Nebraska including two children.
Flu is currently circulating at very low levels in Nebraska. One of the best ways to protect yourself is by rolling up your sleeve and getting a flu shot, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They recommend flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older.
Tracking the flu in Nebraska
While flu can make anyone sick, certain people are at greater risk for serious complications, and it’s especially important they receive vaccine:
- Young children
- Adults 65 years of age or older
- Pregnant women
- People with chronic lung disease (like asthma and COPD), diabetes (type 1 and 2), heart disease, neurologic conditions and certain other long-term health conditions
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
Flu vaccine is safe, effective and rigorously tested. Only injectable flu vaccine is recommended this season. The nasal spray flu vaccine should not be used due to concerns about its effectiveness according to the CDC. The most common reaction people may experience from a flu shot is soreness and redness at the injection site. After vaccination, it takes about two weeks for the body to build immunity
What type of flu is out there? How fast is it spreading? How many people are sick? DHHS uses multiple systems to track flu viruses, activity and illness across the state throughout the entire season including physicians who report the number of people with flu-like illness weekly, lab tests, school surveillance, hospital data, emergency department data and death reporting.
Surveillance systems picked up one case of a variant flu virus (H3N2v). When a flu virus that normally circulates in swine is identified in people, it’s called a variant virus. The person was hospitalized and released. This is Nebraska’s first case of H3N2v. According to CDC, a total of 61 H3N2v cases have been reported so far in 2017 and 18 other states have reported H3N2v cases since December 2005.
“While it’s rare for flu viruses in animals to spread to people, it’s possible. The ability to identify such an event is part of what makes our influenza surveillance systems so successful,” Dr. Safranek said. “This variant flu virus is genetically different than seasonal flu and in the recent past it has not easily spread person-to-person, but the symptoms and severity of illness are similar. As of now, we’re not seeing the conditions needed like person-to-person transmission that would make this virus a potential public health threat.”
For more information about variant flu viruses, go to https://www.cdc.gov/flu/swineflu/index.htm.