Flu week 13

Flu levels have hit "high" activity this week as spread of influenza has continued to tick up this winter. Activity is still lower than most years, however.

INDIANAPOLIS — The new year is opening with Indiana seeing high flu activity across the state, as cases of influenza increased again in the final week of 2021.

Indiana is now seeing “high” flu activity, after being “moderate” the two weeks prior.

In the 13th week of flu monitoring for the week ended Jan. 1, rates of “influenza-like illness” reported by sentinel outpatients providers was 3.24%, up from 3.05% a week ago.

That report entailed 1,829 instances of influenza-like illness reported by those facilities, with about three-quarters of those being patients younger than 50.

The rate of influenza-like illness reports at emergency rooms and urgent care centers rose to 3.32% up from 3% the week prior.

Those numbers were enough to bump the state’s rating to “high,” after previous being rated “moderate” for the previous two weeks after rising from “low” and “minimal” earlier in the season.

The spike in flu activity isn’t unusual. With the exception of the 2020-21 season, which saw historically low flu activity as Hoosiers were protecting against COVID-19, flu activity typically rises at the end of the year and then stays elevated through March or April.

Despite hitting a “high” spread rating, flu activity is actually a little lower than usual. Outside of last season and the mild 2015-2016 season, flu activity at this time of year often hits 5% or higher.

While flu was more or less a nonissue last year when mask mandates were in place and Hoosiers were practicing social distancing and strict quarantines due to COVID-19, most of those restrictions have been lifted this year although individuals are still taking some precautions and quarantines are still be used in schools, workplaces and other settings when people become ill. Those lesser measures may be having a positivity impact in reducing flu compared to other years, even though numbers have been rising steadily this winter.

Indiana did record two new deaths from flu during the week, both patients age 65 and older, bringing the state’s 2021-22 season death toll to five so far.

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.

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.

Specimens tested at the state health department lab this season have so far only detected strains of Influenza A/H3 seasonal virus, with no other types yet identified in the limited testing the state does.

Influenza A/H3 strains — typically H3N2 — are common during the annual flu season. This year’s flu shot was recommended to protect against an H3N2 strain sourced to Cambodia as one of four types included in the yearly quadrivalent shot.

Weekly flu reports can be found online at in.gov/health/erc/infectious-disease-epidemiology/diseases-and-conditions-resource-page/weekly-influenza-reports/.

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