With over 1,075 lab-confirmed influenza cases reported in Washoe County over the last two weeks, and with approximately 11% of the reported cases being hospitalized, health officials are promoting vaccinations and vigilance to keep people from catching the flu this season. Although the usual peak-of-the-season is still four to six weeks away, according to health officials this looks to be an above average flu season with widespread activity across the country and in Nevada. So far in Washoe County, five flu-related deaths have been reported. All had at least one high-risk or underlying medical condition. Four were ages 65+, and one was between 50 and 60 years-old. Only two of the five were immunized which is consistent with Nevada’s low influenza immunization rate of approximately 36% - the lowest in the nation. 

Roughly 2/3 of Nevadans don't get the flu shot each year. While many of us might underestimate the power of the flu, the Washoe County Health District reminds us that the virus is much more serious than the common cold.

The seasonal flu is a highly infectious respiratory disease that should not be taken lightly. With a flu season shaping up to be worse than last year, experts recommend everyone aged 6 months or older get vaccinated.

Unfortunately, that's not the case. Randall Todd, Director of Epidemiology & Public Health Preparedness with Washoe County Health District says, "Each year, Nevada ranks dead last in the nation in terms of percentage of the population that actually gets a flu shot."

Under the most current data from the Washoe County Health District, approximately 300 laboratory confirmed flu cases have been reported so far this season. That's about 40 more sick patients than this same time last year.

Three Washoe County residents have died because of the flu this year. Todd says that there may be a couple of other flu-related deaths that the district is currently working on confirming.

Being in the midst of flu season, which lasts until May, Todd says he fully expects to see plenty of more flu cases.

Although the vaccine is only about 10 percent effective this year, in part due to the especially difficult dominant H3N2 strain, Todd says that getting the shot is still better than nothing, "It reduces the severity of the disease and reduces the likelihood that if you do get it, you're going to have to go to the hospital; and if you do go to the hospital, it reduces the likelihood you'll be in intensive care and reduces the likelihood that you might die."

A common reason people forego the flu shot is because they say it makes them sick. However, Todd clarifies, the vaccine does not contain a live virus, "There's no way the flu shot can cause you to get the flu." He went on to explain that it takes about two weeks until the body is fully protected by the vaccine, "So if you were already incubating the flu when you got the shot, you may still get sick." 

Besides getting a flu shot, there are a few additional tips everyone needs to keep in mind. 

  • Cover your mouth with your sleeve when coughing or sneezing
  • Wipe down common surfaces at work or school, like door handles, desks, etc. 
  • If you know you're sick or feel unwell, stay home from work/school; don't risk spreading the virus

There are still about 20 weeks of the flu season left, so the health district encourages everyone who's able to get it as soon as possible. 

To do so, you can contact your family doctor or primary care provider. You can also get one at the Washoe County Health District, located at 1001 E 9th St B, Reno, NV 89512.

For more information about the flu and for a list of other locations where you can get vaccinated, you can visit Immunize Nevada's website here.