The Delaware Division of Public Health is reporting widespread outbreaks of influenza, with this year’s most prominent strain mainly affecting younger age groups.
As of Jan. 11, Delaware logged 266 confirmed cases of the flu since the start of the season. Of those, 86 were in Sussex County. So far, there have been no reported flu-related deaths.
The week of Jan. 5 through Jan. 11 saw 83 cases of the flu statewide, the most reported in one week since the beginning of the season.
“A significant rise in cases is not unusual for this time of year,” said Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health. “We want to encourage anyone who has not yet received a flu shot to get one as soon as possible. Flu is very unpredictable and the best protection is the vaccine.”
Only 10 of the flu cases reported so far this year were among people ages 65 and over, whereas 95 cases were among those between the ages of 25 and 49. According to state officials, the shift in risk groups is due to the prevalence of the H1N1 strain of influenza, which has historically had a greater impact on young and middle-aged adults.
Martin Luta, chief of the state Bureau of Communicable Disease, said H1N1 first emerged in the U.S. in 2009, coming from South America.
“Because it’s a new virus, there’s no accumulated resistance in the population,” Luta said. “However, it was affecting mostly younger folks. It was determined that those over 60 were not affected as much or as severely because they had been exposed to strains of flu related or similar to the H1N1 pandemic. Over the years, older people have been exposed to a larger range of viruses compared to younger folks.”
Luta also said younger people are more severely impacted this year because many of them are not getting flu shots.
“They think they’re healthy enough to go without a flu shot,” he said.
Although H1N1 is most prevalent now, Luta said a different strain could take the lead as flu season rolls on.
“If another virus takes over as the dominant strain, then it might start to look like what we normally see, with mostly older folks affected,” he said.
Anthony DelFranco, a spokesman for CHEER Delaware, the Sussex County organization that provides services for senior citizens, said as usual, members have been encouraged to get flu shots.
“Many of our seniors, although healthy, can be more susceptible to the flu,” DelFranco said. “We like to help our seniors receive preventative treatment for the flu as early in the season as possible.”
Page 2 of 2 - Flu shots are available at most doctors’ offices and pharmacies. They are also available by appointment through the Division of Public Health at the Adams State Service Center in Georgetown. Call (302) 856-5213.