INDIANAPOLIS — In the first week of statewide flu surveillance, infection rates started off low, as is typical for this part of fall, but the state has already recorded one death attributable to influenza.
The state announced the first death of the flu season on Friday, with the patient having died in September, which is slightly before weekly monitoring begins.
Last year, the state recorded just seven deaths from flu during the 2020-21 season, with rates at record lows throughout the fall, winter and early spring likely attributable to benefits of health precautions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
For the first week of the 2021-22 flu season, rates of detected “influenza-like illness” are at “minimal” levels, which is typical for early October.
Flu rates reported by sentinel outpatient providers was 1.33% in Week One, which is in line with where Indiana started the last four most recent flu seasons.
Typically rates remain below the 2% benchmark through December, which is when flu activity typically tends to spike and then run through March or April before dropping back below the 2% line again as warmer weather returns.
The rate of influenza-like illness reports at emergency rooms and urgent care centers was also low at 1.29%. That also tracks with recent flu seasons for the first week of the monitoring period.
The state did have one death attributable to flu happening before the opening of flu monitoring, with that death being a patient age 50-64, according to the state’s demographic information.
Indiana typically sees more than 100 flu deaths per year, ranging between about 70-150 in an average year. In good years that number can be lower than 10 deaths, as happened last season, but can top 300 deaths caused by flu in particularly bad years.
The state has had no lab specimens test positive for any particular strains of flu yet this year.
The state has identified a few non-influenza viruses circulating in the population including enterovirus/rhinovirus, Parainfluenza 3 virus, Respiratory Syncytial Virus and Coronvirus 229E, which is not the same as the SARS-Coronavirus-2, better known as COVID-19.
Flu monitoring is separate and distinct from COVID-19 tracking, which is logged by the number of tests specifically designed to detect that virus.
While the state only classifies an illness as COVID-19 if that person has tested positive for the virus via a confirmatory test, monitoring for flu is done under the broader umbrella of “influenza-like illness,” which may or may not have a flu test associated with the illness.
Health officials recommend Hoosiers get their annual flu shot as well as get vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to avoid any potential complications or hospitalizations from either respiratory virus.
This year’s flu shot is a quadrivalent — four-component — shot aimed at the four strains most likely expected to circulate this year. Those strains include influenza A H1N1 and H3N2 strains, as well as influenza B Victoria and Yamagata strains.
Flu shot efficacy often depends on how accurately shot makers correctly pick the most dominant strains of virus and getting a flu vaccine makes a person more likely to avoid illness as compared to someone who opts not to.
About 50% of American adults get flu shots each year, with about 60% of children getting immunized.
Flu is most dangerous to the elderly, people who are immuno-compromised, children under 5 years old — especially those 6 months old and younger — and pregnant women.