Officials: N.H. Had Mild Flu Season

The 2012-13 flu season came in like a lion, but health officials are crossing their fingers it will go out like the lamb it’s become.

What threatened in autumn to be a harsh flu season turned out in late winter to be a mild one, at least in New Hampshire, health officials report, but with this caveat: It’s not over yet.

“We’re still in the season where we see the flu and see the stomach bug,” said Ashley Conley, epidemiologist with the city of Nashua’s Division of Public Health and Community Services.

There are two types of illnesses commonly seen in winter: influenza and norovirus, a “stomach bug” that causes gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. The season typically runs from September to the end of April, Conley said.

This influenza season has been light, with no widespread infections at institutions, such as schools.

“In Nashua, we didn’t see any of the large outbreaks that we’ve seen in the past. We didn’t see anything above and beyond what would be normal,” Conley said.

Statewide, 258 cases of influenza were diagnosed this season. However, the number of cases is almost certainly much higher, as most flu sufferers don’t see a doctor or go to a hospital, Conley said.

Flu remains a danger to elderly people and patients with weakened immune symptoms. According to the state Division of Public Health Services, 7.4 percent of all deaths in the state were due to pneumonia and influenza during the most recent reporting week, Feb. 17-23.

That percentage is well below the 12.7 percent threshold to declare an epidemic, according to the state health division.

Nationally, 51 percent of people hospitalized for influenza were age 65 and older.

Statewide, flu hasn’t kept many children home in bed and classrooms empty.

The overall state absenteeism rate for Feb. 17-23 was 4.8 percent, based on a sampling of 96 of the state’s 676 public and private schools in.

The state reports that 0.2 percent of student absences that week were for influenza-like illnesses.

However, some other states were hit much harder than New Hampshire, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, where “widespread influenza activity” was reported, according to state health statistics. Several factors contributed to low numbers of infections this year in New Hampshire, Conley said.

First, many people susceptible to the flu were immunized, she said. For example, the city’s public health department immunized 1,405 students in clinics at Nashua schools.

Also, 1,343 adults and 229 students were immunized at the public health department’s clinic on Mulberry Street, Conley said.

“As soon as the vaccine shows up, we start to vaccinate people,” she said.

Plus, flu shots were given out at hospitals, doctors’ officers and other locations.

Second, the vaccine was a good match for the strain of flu that arrived in New Hampshire.

The vaccine protected people against two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B. One of the strains of influenza A was the flu that showed up this year, she said.

Third, public health officials and nurses stressed “cough etiquette” and “hand hygiene,” Conley said.