The state has reported fewer than 20 influenza-related deaths so far this winter. That’s less than one-sixth of fatality rate from this time last year, when 132 had died by the end of February.
State respiratory epidemiologist Reema Patel says the low numbers are due to luck of the draw…this year, the state is seeing more of the milder H1N1 flu strain, instead of another common strain, H3N2
“Although both of these influenza a viruses tend to co circulate, based on historical data the H1N1-predominant season usually tend to be milder than the H3N2 seasons terms of illness hospitalizations and mortality,” Patel says.
Experts say flu has yet to peak this year. Usually, Indiana’s season peaks around December or January. But through mid-February, Indiana had witnessed only 9 flu deaths over the first 21 weeks of the season.
However, since then, the rate has more than doubled, with the ISDH reporting 10 deaths in just the last month.
Andrew Edwards, an urgent care physician at IU Health in West Lafayette, says he’s been seeing an uptick in flu cases.
“We’ve been seeing influenza cases for the last 2-3-4 weeks and perhaps a little bit more in the past week and a half,” he says.
Lynnette Brammer of the Centers for Disease Control’s influenza division says there’s no telling how serious this season might turn out to be…the only thing doctors can bank on is the flu’s unpredictability.
“Activity started much later than the previous three years and has been lighter than the previous three years,” Brammer says, “but we’re not finished with flu season yet.”
Following the deaths, the state health department is urging vaccinations, something Brammer says can fall by the wayside in sleepy flu seasons:
“I don’t think people feel the urgency to get vaccinated when it’s a mild season and when it’s as late as this this isn’t a time of year when they think to get vaccinated,” she says.
Of the 19 deaths, more than a quarter have been in Lake County.
This week, the Marion County Health department called for hospitals to restrict visitors in response to the recent spike in flu activity.