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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Vermont's Flu Season Is Past Its Peak — But It Isn't Over Yet

A nurse's hand holds a flu shot and prepares it with a vaccine vial.
David Goldman
Associated Press File
This file photo, taken Feb. 7, shows a nurse in Atlanta preparing a flu shot. Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine says the state is no longer in its peak flu season, but it "is still active."

This flu season has been a tough one for Vermont and the rest of the country, in part, due to the predominant presence of the strain influenza A H3N2. But even though it's April, the flu is still on state health officials' radar.

The current flu season in Vermont

“The flu season is still active, but we're no longer at what the CDC terms a widespread geographic impact,” said Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health.

“The amount of flu symptoms being reported across the state is lower than it was at its peak — and the peak occurred in February and March,” Levine added.

As far as the number of flu-related hospitalizations that were reported in Vermont this season, Levine says a final number hasn't yet been determined.

"At the peak of [flu season], it was close to around 10 percent of hospital visits that people reported influenza-like symptoms, which is quite high. We know that it’s lower now," Levine explained.

Preliminary data shows that there have been 22 deaths with an underlying cause of influenza so far in Vermont.

“We hope that the number is precise but that may be subject to change," Levine said. “The good news — I mean, there’s never good news with deaths — but … they were all adults, none of them were pediatric."

Levine credits that, in part, to the amount of vaccines available this season for children in Vermont.

Levine added that as far as the death rate in adults, even if the flu is listed, it is often because it was an adult who had an underlying immune compromising disease or a set of chronic diseases and that the flu is “sort of the final straw.”

How does it compare to previous seasons?

"This was one of the harder seasons," Levine said.

He explains that’s most likely because the predominant strain, Influenza A H3N2, tends to produce a more severe flu season, and that the efficacy of the vaccine for that strain was not anywhere near what people had hoped. 

Although, Levine adds, the vaccine did turn out to be a little better than some of the earlier statistics had predicted.

Is it worth getting a flu shot this late in the season?

While Levine said it is never too late to get a flu shot, he does note that it takes a couple weeks for your body to respond to the flu shot, so there's a little bit of a diminishing return at this time.

How much longer can we expect flu season to last?

We aren't in the clear yet — Levine says flu season will certainly last through this month.

“The flu is a little bit like the winter in Vermont," Levine said. "Just yesterday, we still saw snow, and we could still see more flu, although we think that’s less likely.”

Tabitha was the spring 2018 newsroom intern at VPR.
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