The 26 deaths linked to influenza in Wyoming is well above 6.5 average in recent years

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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — The Wyoming Department of Health reports 26 deaths have been linked to influenza across the state since October.

That is well above the average of 6.5 flu related deaths a year since the 2000-2001 flu season.

"Clearly, this has been a very active and unusually deadly flu season," state epidemiologist Dr. Tracy Murphy said. "While we continue to receive reports of some cases, the activity does seem to finally be winding down in Wyoming."

Among those residents who died, some had received a seasonal flu vaccine and some had not.

"Unfortunately, the vaccine produced last year to fight influenza in the United States for the season was not an effective match to fight the flu strain that circulated most widely," Murphy said in a statement. "That strain 'drifted,' or changed, after the vaccine was made. Flu vaccines do not offer guaranteed protection, but in most years they are an effective and important prevention tool."

Reggie McClinton, state health department surveillance epidemiologist, said influenza A (H3N2) was the predominant virus.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us influenza seasons when influenza A viruses predominate are typically associated with higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths among older residents," he said.

McClinton said the median age of Wyoming's reported influenza-associated deaths for this season was 75, with nearly two-thirds of deaths occurring in individuals over 65.

"We also saw deaths among younger residents, including, sadly, one young child," he said.

The state health department has received reports of nearly 5,000 Wyoming cases of influenza for the season so far.

"We know this number is likely much lower than the true number of illnesses because many people do not seek medical attention when they are sick with influenza and not all cases are reported consistently," McClinton said. "The number of deaths could also be higher because of incomplete, uncertain or delayed information on the death certificates we review."

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. Influenza can sometimes cause severe illness and complications.

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