Nevada has been designated by national health officials as having a widespread incidence of the flu, but so far the outbreak is confined mainly to the northern part of the state, officials said Wednesday.
The identification of Nevada as having widespread influenza is the result of the reporting of several cases from Washoe and Mineral counties, state Epidemiologist Randall Todd said.
No deaths have been reported, and Nevada's number of confirmed cases remains low in comparison to Colorado, he said. Nevada has 34 cases confirmed through lab tests, with another 50 confirmed through a less reliable method called a rapid test, Todd said.
In comparison, Colorado has 3,399 confirmed cases and four deaths.
Because the reported cases of flu come from two of the three regions of Nevada, the north and rural areas, the widespread designation has been applied, however, he said.
"It is true we have achieved the 'widespread' designation, but there is some artificiality about that," Todd said.
The number of cases of the flu in Nevada and nationally is likely much higher because many people who fall ill just stay home until they are better and don't see a doctor, he said.
A separate statistic, which is based on reports of flu-like illness not yet confirmed as the flu, indicates there have been 1,950 cases across the state, Todd said. "Flu-like" is defined as a temperature of 100 degrees or more, a sore throat and no other identifiable cause for the symptoms.
While Washoe and Mineral counties have the biggest number of the flu cases, there have been a few reported as well in Clark, Lyon, Pershing and other Nevada counties, he said.
Patricia Rowley, manager of the Office of Epidemiology for the Clark County Health District, said Southern Nevada has not seen any significant rise in flu-like illness yet this year.
The incidence of flu-like illness being reported nationally is high for this time of year, and flu shots are still recommended, health officials said.
Rowley said there is a strain of the flu manifesting itself this year that is not entirely prevented with this year's flu vaccine. But a flu shot will minimize symptoms if a person comes down with it, she said.
"It won't provide complete protection but you will have less severe symptoms," Rowley said.
Though Southern Nevada may have dodged the flu bug for now, that could be changing, according to a Henderson hospital emergency room physician.
Dr. Richard Henderson, who practices at St. Rose Dominican Hospital, said Friday he has seen what appears to be several flu cases coming into the emergency room in the past two days.
"We don't have the lab tests yet but it looks like the flu," he said.
Henderson said that if symptoms manifest themselves and people seek treatment right away, there are anti-viral medications that can help. But if a person waits, the medications are of little help, he said.
"If I had a high fever, I would not wait it out," he said. "I would come in and get on the medicine."
Todd said it is difficult to predict whether the flu will be a significant health concern this year, or whether it will spread across the state and encompass Clark County as well.
"It's like trying to predict the weather," he said. "You can try, and you might be right and you might be wrong."
The early detection of the flu nationally could suggest it might be a problem this year, however, Todd said. Normally the flu peaks around the end of December and into January, he said.
Todd also recommended a flu shot, but added a couple of other tips for people to get through the flu season. First, if you come into contact with a person who is sick, wash your hands, he said. Second, if you get the flu, stay home. Going to work or school will only spread the illness, Todd said.
In an average year, the disease infects up to 20 percent of the U.S. population, killing about 36,000 Americans and hospitalizing 114,000.