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Flu activity continues as nastier strain becomes dominant one circulating

By  on 3/11/2019

While nationally flu activity may have peaked this season, a more potent influenza strain is now circulating through Indiana and Indianapolis. 

Influenza has led to the deaths of 53 Indiana residents since the start of the season, according to the Indiana State Department’s weekly flu report released Friday. Three Indiana counties – Lake, Monroe, and Marion – have each had five flu deaths, the first time this year that a county has reached that threshold.

Marion County is also seeing an increase in the number of patients heading to area emergency rooms with symptoms akin to influenza, according to the Marion County Public Health Department. In the week that ended March 2, almost 4 percent of all emergency department visits were for flu-like symptoms, up from the previous week.

Statewide, patients with flulike symptoms accounted for a higher percentage of emergency department visits than at any other time this season. By this time last year, flu was on a steady decline, according to state health officials.

Flu symptoms consist of a sudden onset of a cough and/or sore throat, along with a fever and chills and body aches.

Although statewide there have been only two pediatric flu deaths this year, the rate of flu-related emergency department symptoms for 5 to 17-year-olds was the highest of any age range, at 8.6 percent.

Unlike the early part of the season when the majority of the flu circulating was of the H1N1 strain, the dominant flu strain currently circulating is the H3N2 strain, according to state surveillance. About 52 percent of suspected flu specimens that the state received this week tested out as H3N2, compared with 29 percent for H1N1.

Last year was a much more deadly year for the flu. By this point in the season, Indiana had had 265 deaths and by the end of the season in May, 336 people had died. But this year, doctors are seeing many more patients sick with the flu, said Dr. Maria Wilson, a senior medical director with Oak Street Health in Indianapolis.

“The thing that has been different is that the patients have been sicker," she said, "so they are tending to slide their way to hospital more."

One contributing factor could be that this year’s vaccine is only 44 percent effective against H3N2, she said.  

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