By Doug Ireland
---- — Thirteen New Hampshire residents have died in the past month from flu-related illnesses, according to Chris Adamski of the state Department of Health and Human Services.
The Granite State isn’t alone.
Flu outbreaks are widespread in at least 40 other states, said Adamski, the department’s bureau chief for infectious disease control. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is reporting widespread flu cases as well.
This season, the predominant virus is influenza A (H3N2), accounting for about 76 percent of the viruses reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Typically ‘H3N2 seasons’ have been more severe, with higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Joe Bresee of the CDC, “but we will have to see how the season plays out.”
New Hampshire health officials are watching closely.
“We are certainly monitoring it very closely, as I think the nation is,” Adamski said. “It appears very active and early.”
Southern New Hampshire doctors’ offices are seeing a surge in people reporting flu-like symptoms.
The emergency room at Parkland Medical Center in Derry has seen a large increase in the number of flu patients passing through its doors, spokeswoman Nancy Notis said.
“We have had a steady influx,” she said. “At the end of last week, it was the most significant.”
Doctors’ offices are flooded with calls from people with flu symptoms, trying to schedule appointments.
That includes Derry Medical Center and Londonderry Family Practice, which also has an office in Windham.
“Today, we are getting slammed,” spokeswoman Susan Chadwick said yesterday. “We’re getting about 180 calls an hour. Normally, it’s about 100 an hour.”
The call center had received 1,000 calls by 1 p.m. yesterday, she said, the majority from people sick with the flu.
Doctors’ offices and pharmacies still are seeing large numbers of people getting flu shots.
“People are still coming in,” said Tyler Davis, pharmacy manager at CVS in Derry.
“It’s never too late to get a shot,” Adamski said.
Everyone over 6 months old should be vaccinated, she said.
Although flu season started in late September, a few weeks earlier than usual, the virus didn’t become widespread in New Hampshire until about three weeks ago, Adamski said.
“It really is a high number for one month, but it may be all we get this year,” Adamski said.
A couple other flu-related deaths were reported earlier in the season, she said.
There can be 20 to 35 flu-related deaths one year and only a handful the next, Adamski said.
She said it’s too early in the season to make predictions on how serious it could become.
One positive sign is that the vaccine has been proven to be effective in combatting the strain.
That wasn’t the case three years ago when the H1N1 flu virus struck, according to Garrett Simonsen, coordinator of the Greater Derry Public Health Network.
A new vaccine had to be manufactured because the previous one was ineffective, he said.
By the time the new vaccine was available, it was too late. Thousands of people in New Hampshire and across the country were seriously ill with the flu.
“It was a unique strain,” he said.
Adamski and Simonsen said there is no way of knowing at this point if the latest outbreak will be as serious as H1N1.
“It’s too early to make final assessments,” Adamski said.