Local doctors warn of long flu season

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Warmer weather and green grass are signs spring is here, but a virus associated with cold weather is sticking around.

More than 19 million people got the flu this year and more than 600,000 of them were hospitalized because of it.

Just because it's warmer, doesn't mean it's over. Doctors are seeing more cases this spring than this time last year.

"We've had a similar number of cases the last few years. The one thing that seems different here and around the country is that influenza is lasting longer," said Dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease physician.

He says while it may be the tail end of the season, people are still getting sick. Most are getting two types of strains. The season started with H1N1 and then halfway through the season, the H3N2 virus was more prominent.

He says earlier this month, there were seven cases of the flu reported to the Vermont Department of Health.

"We are almost at the end of it. The challenge is the last few people who are getting influenza are often people who are a little vulnerable," Lahey said.

That vulnerable population includes the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and people who didn't get a flu shot.

People in Burlington Monday said they were not worried about getting the flu. Kipp Dixson, a Killington resident, says he got the shot and does the basics to keep himself healthy.

"I just try to wash my hands before I eat and that's about it," he said.

Jessica Simpson, a mother of two and school teacher, also says she isn't worried.

"We've all had our vaccines and wash our hands and practice good hand hygiene and all of that," she said.

Lahey says having the flu shot provides the best protection, but even that is never perfect.

"This year it was about 47 percent likely to protect you from influenza," he said.

Every year, the UVM Medical Center officially announces when flu season is over. They measure it by counting two weeks after the last positive test in their lab. Last year it was officially over May 21.

It's been five days since the last positive test, so it could end in nine days, but if someone tests positive the clock starts over.