COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – This year’s flu is hitting hospitals across the country especially hard. One of the areas seeing some of those record numbers is the Panhandle region of North Idaho.
Of all 51 flu-related deaths in the state of Idaho, 29 were recorded in the Panhandle district, more than half of that total. To add to this, of all the emergency room visits to emergency rooms in Idaho, 7.2 percent were for flu-related symptoms. That's significantly higher than the baseline of 2.4 percent.
“You get sick really quick. I mean you could be feeling fine and then a week later you might be in critical condition,” said David Hylsky, an epidemiologist with the Panhandle Health District. "It's been a really bad year for deaths here. Twenty-eight of those deaths have been in individuals over the age of 50. We haven't had any kids yet die of influenza so that is good news."
Hylsky has a few potential reasons for why the Panhandle numbers are so high. First, people living in the Panhandle tend to be older than the state of Idaho average. Next, is proximity to a major metropolitan area like Spokane – which has also seen record flu numbers – could contribute to the problem as well. Last, non-immunization rates in North Idaho tend to be higher, meaning the number of people choosing to vaccinate themselves is lower.
Despite many feeling like flu season is coming to an end, we are actually right in the middle of it, the Influenza Surveillance Coordinator for Idaho, warns. "We're still in flu season,” Randi Pederson said. “Flu season lasts from October through April in Idaho and you can catch it anytime. So getting your flu shot now could protect you if you're exposed to it in a couple weeks."
This year’s dominant strain is A (H3), which is the same strain as last year, but it is hitting Idaho harder. In 2017, there were only 31 flu-related deaths by the end of January. This year, more than 51 people have died so far in the state of Idaho. Forty-nine of the 51 deaths were individuals over the age of 50. Nationwide, however, 53 cases of flu-related pediatric deaths have been recorded this season.