SALT LAKE CITY -- Influenza is striking more people between the ages of 18 and 64 this year, the same age group of those who are the least likely to be vaccinated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu season is still widespread nationwide as well as in Utah, with more than 60 percent of hospitalizations hitting the younger age groups instead of the typical 65 and older crowd.
The strain hitting the hardest is H1N1, which was responsible for the 2009 flu spike. Rachelle Boulton, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, said those who have come down with the strain have been sick enough to be hospitalized.
As of Jan. 18, 544 Utahns have been hospitalized with influenza, Boulton said. At least five flue deaths have been reported in Utah.
"People are coming in with some pretty nasty bacterial pneumonia and severe respiratory disease related to influenza," she said. "It's really hitting hard this year among the younger group of people and unfortunately they are the same group of people who tend to be the least vaccinated."
According to the CDC, approximately 37 percent of Utah residents between the age of 18 to 64 were vaccinated during the 2012-2013 flu season, putting the state in 27th place for adults vaccinated against the flu. Massachusetts came in first. Florida came in last.
"A lot of people don't understand the severity of the flu," Boulton said. "They say they've had it before and it wasn't that bad, but influenza is a very specific respiratory illness. It's not the common cold. It can be pretty serious. We have a lot of hospitalizations from it and we know people die from it."
Boulton also said a lot of people have misconceptions about the vaccine, which might prevent them from being immunized, including the vaccine will cause the flu or the vaccine doesn't prevent you from getting the flu.
"The vaccine isn't 100 percent effective, but the strain that's hitting the hardest right now is in this year's vaccine," she said. "Even if you do get a different strain of the flu, if you've been vaccinated, the illness typically isn't going to be as severe as it would if you weren't vaccinated."
The flu vaccine also takes about two weeks to kick in, so if someone is exposed to the virus during those 14 days, their immune system hadn't had time to build up sufficient protection, she said.
The vaccine also does not cause the flu. The CDC states the vaccines administered are made in two ways, either with inactivated viruses or no viruses at all. The most common side effects are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches.
"It's not too late to get the flu shot," Boulton said. "The flu can run all the way into May so we are encouraging people to get immunized if they haven't already."
According to the CDC, 35 states have reported widespread influenza, with 20 reporting high activity. Those states reporting widespread influenza are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.