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Flu cases are expected to rise in N.H., says state epidemiologist Ben Chan

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The CDC says there are early signs that flu vaccination uptake is down this season compared to last.

Flu season is here in New Hampshire, although compared to other states, flu activity remains low.

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But state epidemiologist Benjamin Chan says cases are expected to rise in the coming months.

“It's not unusual during flu seasons to see influenza activity increase in other parts of the U.S. and then spread more into the Northeast,” he said.

Dr. Chan said it’s not too late for Granite Staters to get vaccinated against the flu. He stressed vaccination protects individuals, but a flu shot is especially important this year.

As New Hampshire’s healthcare system is already overburdened and understaffed due to a record-breaking surge in COVID cases, “anything we can do to prevent hospitalizations due to influenza is going to help our health care systems and our hospitals” Chan said.

The CDC said early signs suggest that flu vaccination uptake is down this season compared to last.

Because the flu does not need to be reported at the state or federal level when diagnosed, New Hampshire does not have exact figures of how many people are sick with the flu or vaccinated against it. But there are still ways to monitor flu activity, Chan explained, including lab testing.

Chan said lab testing helps the state identify the strains of the flu circulating. This year, he says the H3N2 strain is the most common.

“We know from experience that when the H3N2 virus is the predominant strain that's circulating, we tend to have a more severe flu season,” Chan said. In past years, that strain has meant dozens of deaths in New Hampshire.

Flu season was exceptionally mild last year, in part due to a statewide mask mandate and fewer Granite Staters going out due to the COVID pandemic.