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home : premium content : news May 24, 2016

2/1/2013 1:07:00 PM
West side flu bug could be headed this way

Ian Dunn

Because this year's flu is already more widespread than last year, local healthcare leaders met on Jan. 16 to assured a coordinated response to this year's flu season. The Center for Disease Control is calling this a moderately severe flu season.

"The local healthcare leaders wanted to talk about some action we would take, so that everybody hears the same thing at the same time, so everybody would be on the same page, in terms of response to the community, if the flu becomes as active here as on the west side," said Mary Small, public information officer, Chelan-Douglas Health District.

The flu has become very active on the west side of the state, thus providing a warning to those of us here on the east side. However, Small said we rarely get this kind of warning.

"The flu starts in different parts of the state every year. It doesn't have the same pattern," Small said. "The H1N1 flu started on our side of the state in 2009. It changes. Sometimes it's related to the fact a cruise ship brought it to Seattle or travelers at the airport. I can happen anywhere, because we all travel. We no longer stay in one place."

It does make sense, since there is flu on the west side, it will eventually make it here. Same time, Small said we already have the flu here. We started three weeks later in terms of flu activity.

"We have fewer people over here. We had a school break at an opportune time over Christmas," she said. "We're looking at a later start, and possible less severe season because of that. It is important that people get vaccinated to protect the community."

The healthcare community is well vaccinated, she said. About 90 percent of all the people working in healthcare are vaccinated, and possible more than that. In general, she said a third of the population is vaccinated.

Small would like to raise that number. She points out the

majority of deaths in our state have been people over 65 years of age. Of the 12 deaths through Jan. 12, two were young children and the rest were people over 65.

"It's very important if you are a caregiver for children, daycare worker or in schools. Sports teams when they go on long bus trips where they can easily spread the virus. It's important they are vaccinated," she said. "The general population is recommended to be vaccinated as a whole, because the well people protect the people in high risk groups."

This flu is called the H3N2 strain. Small said it has been making people really ill, hitting folks hard in terms of a high fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue, muscle aches and body aches. It could keep you down for awhile.

The recommendation is to get a flu shot, if you haven't already. Flu vaccine is still available locally from clinics and many retail pharmacies. No flu vaccine is perfect, but this one provides 60 percent protection, and may results in a milder illness among for those getting the flu.

You should stay at home if you are sick. If you have flu like symptoms, fever, body aches, sore throat, cough, it is recommended you do not attend public events or other gatherings where you might spread the illness. Parents should not send an ill child to school or child care setting until they are fever-free for 24 hours without medicine.

Remember, the flu can be very serious for some people. The elderly or people with health problems should call the doctor when flu symptoms occur.

"If you call the doctor when you go in, there is an anti-viral drug, Tamiflu, that can be helpful in shortening the course, if you get it within the first 48 hours," she said. "It's worth giving your doctor a call."

You should also wash your hands often, especially after touching your nose or mouth. And remember to cover your cough with your arm and elbow.

Vaccine supply is towards the lower end nationally, because this is the second half of the flu season, she said. Locally, vaccinating started in September. While there is less vaccine available now, there is still vaccine available.

"We're not seeing the numbers Seattle is seeing. We are three weeks behind, but we would like to not ever be at those numbers," Small said. "We want to be more proactive. There are more and more people going to walk-in clinics and ER with flu-like symptoms."

Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or

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