UPDATE: 2 flu-related deaths reported in Lancaster County

By: Megan Palera

This flu season is hitting hard. Emergency rooms are full of sick patients and health officials are urging everyone to get vaccinated.

The typical season doesn't begin until now but this one started in November. Officials have no idea when the season will peak. So far 18 children have died nationwide from it, including now a child from Lancaster County.

“It's very high. Not quite as much as when we were in the pandemic, but we're headed that direction,” Tim Timmons with the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department said.

The Centers for Disease Control says 41 states have widespread influenza activity. Here in Nebraska, 272 confirmed cases compared to just 13 this time last year. On Monday, the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department reported two deaths from the flu: a man in his 60s and a child who were not vaccinated.

Emergency rooms in Lincoln are seeing an alarming number of sick people. St. E's says in the last week, they've seen more than 50 people with flu like symptoms. Since Christmas, Bryan Health says it's admitted 8 people a day with the flu – most of those patients were not vaccinated.

“We've got a good match. So the vaccine, those who have gotten the vaccine and those who get the vaccine will have protection against the influenza viruses that are circulating right now,” Timmons said.

Along with the vaccination, social media is adding new ways to avoid the flu. Apps like the “Flu Tracker” or the CDC's “Influenza App” keeps users updated on the influenza outbreak in your area. The apps also tell users where they can get vaccinated.

Here's more information on groups most at risk of catching the flu:

• Influenza is a highly infectious disease of the lungs that can cause mild to severe illness and lead to   death. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue, chills and achiness. Vaccination is the primary method for preventing influenza, and full protection occurs about two weeks after vaccination. Those needing a vaccine should contact their health care providers or find a community flu immunization location. Flu vaccination is especially important for those at high risk of having serious complications and those who live with or care for people at high risk. They include:

• Children under age five (especially those under two years of age)

• Adults age 65 years and older

• Pregnant women

• People who have certain conditions including asthma , neurological and neuro-developmental conditions, chronic lung disease, heart disease, blood disorders, diabetes, kidney disorders, liver disorders, metabolic disorders, obesity, a weakened immune system and those under age 19 who receive long-term aspirin therapy. It's also important for individuals living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to get vaccinated. People who care for those at high risk for complications from flu include:

• Health care workers

• Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu

• Household contacts and caregivers of children under age five, especially those under six months of age who are at high risk but are too young be get vaccinated.  Individuals also can reduce their risk of getting and spreading influenza by staying home when they have symptoms and by avoiding people who have symptoms. It's also recommended that individuals wash hands thoroughly and frequently and cover their mouths and noses with a tissue or sleeve when they cough or sneeze.

The LLCHD will provide flu vaccine to low-income, uninsured adults and certain uninsured children. To be eligible for a flu vaccine at the Health Department, children must be between six months and 18 years of age and age and meet one or more of these criteria:

• have Medicaid coverage

• have no health insurance or are under-insured

• be an American Indian and/or Alaskan Native

LLCHD requires appointments for flu vaccinations. For more information, call 402-441-8065 or visit

lincoln.ne.gov (keyword: health).