Flu season is well under way, and the Capital region is most affected so far

  • Flu map, Dec. 2018 Courtesy—Dept. Health and Human Serv.

  • This chart shows weekly reports since 2015 of the two measures used to estimated how much flu is in New Hampshire. This chart runs through the 48th week of the 2018 – the green lines mark week 48 in past years, for comparison. Flu usually peaks in Febuaury; not the the extreme jump in cases around the eighth week of 2018.  Courtesy—N.H. Dept. Health and Human Service

Monitor staff
Published: 12/30/2018 3:52:55 PM

Flu season is picking up and Merrimack County is seeing the most activity in New Hampshire, but so far the dominant strain of influenza circulating through the country is relatively mild.

Elizabeth Daley, chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control for the state, said that in New Hampshire, as in most of the country, one particular strain of influenza is so far the most common.

“The strain seems to be H1N1 predominating, although it’s too early to know if that’s the one that will stay predominant … The vaccine is typically a good match for this strain,” said Daley.

Influenza is a highly variable disease and several different strains usually circulate at the same time, which is one reason why flu vaccines are less effective than vaccines for most infectious diseases. Despite this, health officials strongly encourage everybody over the age of six months to get the flu vaccine.

The shots are free for every state resident under the age of 19 and are covered by most health insurance plans.

In the 2017-2018 flu season, more than 80,000 deaths in the United States were attributed to influenza, the most since records began being kept in 1976. That was caused at least in part by the virulence of the strain that was common. 

“We typically see fewer deaths from H1N1,” said Daley. “So far no deaths (in New Hampshire) have been specifically attributed to influenza.”

Because the flu is not a reportable disease in most states, the number of cases is estimated through other measures often categorized as “influenza-like illness.” 

New Hampshire uses two measures: ILI, in which 19 health care providers report data about patients with flu-like symptoms but who haven’t been completely diagnosed as having the virus, and Automated Hospital Emergency Department Data, in which 19 state hospitals send in data about emergency room patients with acute respiratory illness.

For the week ending Dec. 22, Merrimack County was seeing “high” levels of acute respiratory disease, another marker for the flu. It was the only county in the state with that level of influenza activity. Rockingham, Strafford and Coos counties saw “elevated” levels, the next step down on the marking system, and the rest of the state was relatively quiet.

Down in Massachusetts, by contrast, more than half of the reporting regions had elevated or higher levels of the symptoms, indicating that the flu season is further developed there.

The flu season usually peaks around February. 

Daley noted that flu isn’t the only virus around right now, as several cold viruses are circulating.

“People need to practice other good health care, like staying home when you’re sick, staying away from people who are sick, washing hands frequently and effectively,” she said. 

The flu’s symptoms are a cough, sore throat and fever – colds, by contrast, rarely produce a fever. 

“If you develop those symptoms, you should reach out to a health care provider … who may consider giving antiviral medication to shorten the illness, preventing severe complications,” Daley said.

The flu does not respond to antibiotics because it is caused by a virus, not a bacteria. 


(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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