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Tough start to flu season in Clark County, with cases, hospitalizations up sharply

Health officials are reporting a surge in Southern Nevada flu cases this season, with double the number of hospitalizations and a 90 percent increase in reported cases compared with the same period last year.

Flu deaths are down, from 11 in the 2015-16 flu season to just one in the 2016-17 season, the latest data compiled by the Southern Nevada Health District show.

But the increase in the overall number of cases and hospitalizations mirrors a bad flu season across the United States, health officials said.

“There’s just been an increase across the country and here in Southern Nevada,” said Michael Johnson, the health district’s director of community health.

Between Oct. 2, 2016, and Jan. 21, Clark County recorded 238 cases of the flu, also known as influenza, compared to 125 cases during the same period last season.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations have more than doubled from 90 to 184, with a large spike in cases affecting seniors age 65 and older.

The numbers are backed by anecdotal evidence from the front lines.

“The pediatric emergency department has recently been treating patients that have tested positive for the flu among other illnesses such as RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and Rotavirus,” said Dr. Steven Krebs of University Medical Center in Las Vegas . “However, being it is flu season, this is not uncommon. Seeing an influx in all three of these viruses is a little rare, yet not alarming.”

Johnson said it’s difficult to assess the severity of this flu season or the reasons for the increase because it’s relatively early. But he added that the health district and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will investigate if the trend continues.

“The flu is unpredictable,” he noted.

Flu season in Southern Nevada usually peaks in January or February, and health district flu surveillance typically continues from October through May. Flu statistics are generally viewed as incomplete because many people don’t report their cases to a physician or the health district, but they provide a good comparison point to previous flu seasons.

According to the CDC, Nevada is one of roughly 30 states reporting widespread flu activity.

“The fact that the numbers are up just underscores the importance of getting vaccinated,” Johnson said.

Getting a flu vaccine is the best protection against the flu, but Johnson suggests residents heed traditional advice — wash hands often, cover the mouth when coughing and the nose when sneezing and seek a physician to prescribe antiviral medications, if necessary.

If experiencing shortness of breath, severe weakness, chest pains or other more serious symptoms while suffering from the flu, seek a doctor immediately, he said, as those symptoms can indicate a medical complication.

Contact Pashtana Usufzy at pusufzy@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Follow @pashtana_u on Twitter.

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