A slow but steady trickle of Nebraskans testing positive for influenza in September and October is raising the prospect of an early influenza season this year, according to state health officials.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services sent a notice to health care providers Monday alerting them to the bug’s possible early arrival. While the numbers aren’t high, there is a slight uptick.
During the past two months, laboratories have reported between one and 24 positive influenza tests a week, with selected samples confirmed by more advanced testing. Typically, the state receives weekly reports in the single digits during those months, many of which turn out to be false positives.
That also means it’s time for those who haven’t done so already — those who’ve been holding off, those who’ve been too busy — to get their flu shots.
“While experts discourage predicting influenza trends,” state epidemiologist Dr. Tom Safranek wrote, “the numbers seen to date raise the prospect of an early influenza season and underscore the importance of an accelerated influenza vaccination campaign, especially in high-risk patients.”
Safranek also noted that the positive flu tests are accompanied by reports of increased levels of influenza-like illness from outpatient clinics and emergency rooms from multiple communities across the state.
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Health officials haven’t seen an uptick in flu-like illness in Douglas County, said Dr. Anne O’Keefe, senior epidemiologist in the Douglas County Health Department. But seeing one elsewhere in the state indicates something may be brewing.
O’Keefe seconded the call for residents to get their flu shots.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Americans get vaccinated by the end of October. But health officials typically continue to recommend getting the shot as long as the virus is circulating. It takes about two weeks for a person to develop full immunity. Health officials also encourage people to seek protection before the holidays bring them — and their germs — together.
The CDC recommends the vaccine for most people over the age of 6 months.
In particular, O’Keefe stressed the importance of vaccination for pregnant women. Not only are they at higher risk of complications because their immune systems are down, she said, but antibodies also pass to their babies and help protect them for the first six months of life.
Other reasons to get the shot:
» While you might still get the flu, it will be less severe. That difference could be enough to keep you out of the doctor’s office, the hospital — or worse.
» The vaccines cover three or four strains of the influenza virus, so you’ll be protected if different strains arise during the season.
» Getting the shot helps protect those around you who are at higher risk or can’t get the shot, including the very young and the very old.