Bad news: Flu is on the rise in Omaha area — and it’s likely to get worse

January 6, 2019

Flu activity continues to rise across the Omaha area and is expected to get worse as winter stretches on.

Health officials are advising those who haven’t been vaccinated to do so, as Douglas County has seen an uptick in flu cases within the past two weeks. Dr. Anne O’Keefe, senior epidemiologist with the Douglas County Health Department, said the county reported 356 confirmed flu cases last week, compared with 209 confirmed cases the week before. The actual count could be much higher.

Nebraska Medicine is opening several walk-in flu clinics next week in response to the spike.

Nebraska is among 24 states experiencing widespread flu activity, according the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far this flu season, Nebraska has reported seven flu-related deaths, including one child. Of the six adults, four were older than 65. The deaths occurred in eastern and north-central parts of the state.

Iowa reported its first flu-related death of the season Friday. The eastern Iowa man was middle-aged and had underlying health issues, officials said in a release. Over the past three weeks, flu activity has increased and has been reported in every region of the state, said a spokeswoman with the Iowa Department of Public Health.

O’Keefe said it’s early enough in the season that it’s tough to know too much about this year’s strain. Last year’s flu season was particularly harsh.

“It could be just as bad,” O’Keefe said.

Health officials are reminding the public that it isn’t too late for a flu shot: Flu season typically peaks in February.

O’Keefe said it can take the vaccine a couple of weeks to kick in. “If you get the flu a couple days after you get the shot, it’s not caused by the shot,” she said. “You weren’t immune yet.”

To get a vaccine, check with pharmacies and doctors’ offices.

“We expect flu viruses to be around for at least another couple months,” she said. “It’s definitely not too late.”

People who suspect that they have the flu can come in to Nebraska Medicine’s flu clinics without an appointment and be treated quickly. The clinics open Monday.

Individuals who have flu-like symptoms — which can include fever, chills, body aches, sore throat and runny nose — should call their medical provider regarding the most appropriate treatment, O’Keefe said.

In addition to being vaccinated, officials offer these tips to protect yourself and others from the flu and other winter illnesses:

Wash your hands often.Avoid contact with people who are sick.Stay home from school, work, family gatherings and social functions if you’re sick.Cover your mouth and nose when you cough with a tissue or sleeve, not your hands.

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