Stronger flu strain shows up

March 19, 2019

A stronger influenza strain is striking Allen County, and doctors are urge area residents to seek preventive vaccinations.

Flu season began in October with “the old tried and true H1N1,” Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said Monday. But hospitals now are seeing an increase in cases of H3N2 : a “more severe illness” that could be particularly dangerous for children and older people.

“The season may have started off mild, but it’s ended with a roar,” McMahan said.

Dr. Scott Stienecker, a medical director for Parkview Health, said his hospitals saw 10 to 15 new flu cases per day at the start of the flu season. The number has risen to about 45 cases per day.

“Flu has started to shoot up,” said Stienecker, who focuses on epidemiology and infection prevention.

The Indiana Department of Health tracks influenza-like illnesses and reports widespread activity around the state. Indiana has seen 60 “influenza-associated deaths” this season.

McMahan and Stienecker held a news conference Monday at a Fort Wayne pharmacy to encourage residents who skipped this year’s flu shot to get one.

Patients show up at hospitals throughout the year with symptoms, but influenza cases tend to drop off as days become warmer. This year, flu season appears to be lingering and can cause serious illness and death.

“Flu vaccine is the only thing that we have that is effective (in fighting the virus),” Stienecker said.

Lutheran Health Network spokesman Geoff Thomas said precautions including washing hands and staying away from sick people also help.

“Because flu season may be peaking later than usual, than it has the previous few years, it’s a very good time for everyone to review what to do if they or a loved one experiences an influenza-like illness,” he said in email.

McMahan said everyone older than 6 months should get a flu shot.

Stienecker said H3N2 is “very active in the heart” and that people older than 70 are “more severely affected.”

The virus can lead to complications including heart attack and congestive heart failure.

An influenza report released last week by the state showed 42 of the 60 people who have died from flu-associated deaths were 65 or older.

Indiana is one of 30 states with high flu activity, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week. Only Tennessee, Florida, Delaware and Arizona have minimal activity, according to the agency.

“It’s not a cold, and it’s really important to take it seriously,” McMahan said.