Flu hospitalizations prompt Southern Utah health officials to urge vaccination

ST. GEORGE — Health officials are reminding residents of the importance of getting the flu vaccine after at least one person in Southern Utah has been hospitalized for influenza.

The Utah Department of Health began monitoring the flu season on Sept. 29, and as of Monday, the department has reported that four people have been hospitalized for influenza. The four people are spread throughout three regions: Davis County, Salt Lake County and Southwest Utah.

David Heaton, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department public information officer, told St. George News that as the virus begins to work its way around, officials always encourage people to get their annual vaccines at the beginning of every flu season in September and October.

“It’s the best defense we have right now against getting infected with influenza,” he said.

The vaccine is adapted each year because the virus mutates, but Heaton said physicians are working on the technology to create a one-time vaccine that would protect an individual throughout their lifetime.

The flu is an extremely contagious virus that causes respiratory illness, affecting the nose, throat and lungs. Influenza has proven to be fatal in some circumstances. Symptoms of influenza may include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Children are also likely to experience vomiting or diarrhea.

“The flu might seem common to people, but it can still be pretty deadly,” Heaton said.

The most vulnerable population has been those above the age of 65 years old, pregnant women, infants and those with chronic health conditions. People in vulnerable populations are most likely to be hospitalized if they do catch the illness, Heaton said.

Heaton said influenza is the only contagious disease remaining in the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., alongside cancer and heart disease. The illness is the cause of thousands of deaths every year, either directly or indirectly through complications like pneumonia.

Last year, 1,791 people in Utah were hospitalized due to influenza, and Southwestern Utah made up 160 of those patients. Southwest Utah also had the highest concentration of influenza-like illnesses, being the only region in the state to reach a designation of “low” while all other areas were labelled “minimal.”

While influenza A was the strand that most people experienced, the most common subtypes of influenza A viruses found in people were the H1N1 and H3N2 viruses. Those with influenza A made up about 75% of people who tested positive for the flu.

About 61% of the almost 1,800 people hospitalized for influenza during the 2018-19 flu season were 50 years old or older.

“Last year was probably our worst flu year in the United States since the 2009 pandemic,” Heaton said.

Flu vaccines are administered in a number of locations, and the best way to avoid the flu is by getting vaccinated each year, Heaton said. There are steps residents can take to prevent the spread of the virus, including washing hands, covering a cough or sneeze and staying home from work or school when sick.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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