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Flu Hits NE Early; Highest Rates among Kids, Young Adults

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Monday, December 5, 2022   

Nebraska is one of a dozen states experiencing "very high" levels of influenza, and the highest percentage of cases has been in children and young adults.

Children under 17 account for more than half the Nebraska flu cases so far, with the highest numbers in the five- to 17-year-old age group, and second-highest in children birth to four years of age.

Molly Herman, epidemiology coordinator for the Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department in Wayne, where they have among the highest percentages in the state, said the strain they are seeing the most is H3N2.

"That is usually a strain that causes more severe illness in people, more hospitalizations and more deaths," Herman pointed out. "It's really important to get vaccinated, because any flu vaccine is going to give you a level of protection that's going to help keep you from getting super sick."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu shots for anyone over six months of age, and parents with questions should check with their child's doctor. And for preventing illnesses of all kinds, it's important to wash your hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes and be willing to stay home when you're not feeling well.

There have been two flu-related deaths in Nebraska so far, and four reported outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

Douglas County has the highest percentage of flu cases in the state, and the highest number of flu-related hospitalizations by this point in over a decade. In November, the county reported 2,300 cases, compared to 26 last November.

Herman noted RSV infection is also high in her region, although statewide, RSV cases peaked in early November and have slowly declined since then. She added COVID numbers have varied, and the state's wastewater monitoring has been very helpful in predicting what they might see.

"And what we've found is that whenever the concentration of virus goes up in wastewater, about 10 to 14 days later, we will see a rise in cases locally," Herman explained. "We saw a huge spike in wastewater about November first, and then, sure enough, 10 to 14 days later is when we started our increase in cases."

The state's mid-November wastewater surveillance revealed COVID to be "high to very high" in 12 of 14 sites monitored. With flu, RSV and COVID circulating, health experts say there's a risk of co-infection, with two or even three viruses at the same time.


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