The flu season began last week in New Hampshire, prompting public health officials to remind residents that it is not too late to be vaccinated.
So far, the granite state is better off than most of the country – there have been no deaths from influenza and it is one of only three states where the centers for disease control and prevention have classified flu activity as minimal.
But the State Department of Health and Human Services last week for the first time upgraded its assessment of the influenza impact from regional to widespread, said Beth Daly, head of the Office of Infectious Disease Control of the state.
"We are starting to see a significant increase in influenza-like illnesses in our state, so we call it widespread," she said. "We are working on the recovery of the peak, we have not reached a peak yet."
Hospitals do not have to report flu-like illnesses, so there is no definitive criterion for the flu season. But New Hampshire keeps the spread of viruses under control by hospitals that voluntarily report different readings and provide samples for testing.
Data from the week ending December 29 indicate that Influenza A H1N1 is the primary strain in New Hampshire, accounting for nearly 87 percent of the samples tested by the state's public health laboratories.
H1N1 was responsible for a flu pandemic in 2009-2010, Daly said, when it was a new strain and was not included in the nation's flu vaccine. The vaccine is now designed to inoculate against H1N1.
Approximately 9 percent of the flu specimens tested in New Hampshire returned positive for Influenza A H3N2, the species that aggravated the particularly deadly flu season last year.
By January 2018, there were at least five influenza-related deaths in New Hampshire.
The H3N2 strain is more widespread in the southeastern states.
Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself from the flu, Daly said. Even if you get a strain that the current vaccine is not designed to, it can reduce the severity of the symptoms.
The vaccination rate seems to be higher this year. The percentage of vaccine coverage for children aged 6 months to 17 years was 46 percent in mid-November, an increase of almost 7 percent compared to last year, according to the CDC. The number of adult vaccinations was 45 percent, an increase of more than 6 percent.
"Now it's still a good time to get vaccines," Daly said. "Based on the tests that CDC has done, the strain of influenza that circulates is the same strain that is in the vaccine."
And as always, people have to wash their hands regularly and everyone who has flu-like symptoms – fever, cough or sore throat – must stay home from work or school.