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image The most common strain of flu in the United States right now is a variety of H1N1.

January 23, 2014
H1N1 flu virus hitting local population hard

Flu activity in Tooele County and across the state remains high, and the virus seems to be targeting an unusual age demographic this year, experts say.

The virus continues to spread at an elevated rate, according to information from the Center for Disease Control. Locally, the flu is the confirmed culprit behind five hospitalizations and one death, with more cases currently under investigation, said Louise Ekenstam, an epidemiology nurse with the Tooele County Health Department.

This year’s most common strain, a variety of H1N1, currently accounts for about 65 percent of reported cases in the U.S., according to the CDC. This particular strain of flu — there are about 5,000 known strains, Ekenstam said — is unusual in that it appears to target a 25- to 49-year-old demographic.

“Those people may not think they’re at risk, but we really want them to go out and get vaccinated,” she said.

Of the known cases in the county, Ekenstam said all but one had not received a vaccination. The H1N1 strain was included in this year’s regular vaccine, and should afford those who receive the vaccine protection from the virus.

As with any vaccine, a flu shot does not always protect 100 percent against getting sick, Ekenstam said. It takes about two weeks to be fully effective, and in older individuals may not be as effective in preventing illness. However, she said getting the flu shot would prevent or minimize symptoms in most cases.

Additionally, getting vaccinated protects those in the community who cannot have a vaccine themselves — such as the young and old, those undergoing treatment for cancer, and those with illnesses that compromise the immune system.

Ekenstam said she worries about those populations any time a contagion such as the flu begins spreading rapidly in the community.

Flu season typically peaks sometime between the latter part of January through the beginning of March, Ekenstam said.

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