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Flu season here even if a little late
MARYSVILLE Your calendar most likely tells you it is late in January. So why is the local paper carrying a story on flu season? Its over, or at least nearly over, isnt it?
Actually, according to Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, flu season normally arrives in western Washington along with the end of December. This year it arrived even later, Goldbaum said, actually just in the last few weeks.
Goldbaum and others said the county regularly monitors what officials call sentinel clinics and hospitals. One such is the Everett Clinic. Based on the number of flu tests ordered by doctors at the clinic and the number of positive results, Goldbaum believes there is little doubt the flu has arrived in Snohomish County.
We are seeing the flu season start up in earnest, he said.
Goldbaum added of 100 tests completed at the Everett Clinic in a recent week, more than a quarter came back positive for Type A influenza, the most common type of flu virus.
But he also added that just because the bug has arrived, that doesnt mean residents have lost their chance to take defensive measures, most importantly getting a flu shot.
Its absolutely appropriate to get vaccinated, Goldbaum said. Youre in a perfect position.
Vaccines lose strength over time, Goldbaum explained. But a shot received now would be at full strength through the heart of the flu season giving the person who took that shot a good chance of avoiding the flu virus.
If vaccines fade over time, why do doctors push flu shots as early as October?
Health District Communications Specialist Suzanne Pate said one reason is the holiday season brings lots of people and their germs close together. Goldbaum added that in most cases, even with the risk of the shot fading, its better to have had a shot before the flu arrives in your part of the world.
Who should get a flu shot?
Everyone, Goldbaum said is the short answer.
The more complete answer, according to information provided by Pate, is anyone who is not allergic to eggs. Experts recommend shots for infants over six months, though children younger than nine must receive two shots per year.
Shots also are, of course, highly recommended for the elderly or anyone over 50 years of age. Goldbaum talked a lot about how vaccines are developed, an important process, he said because of the large variety of flu viruses. Essentially, pharmaceutical companies decide annually what vaccines to develop after watching what types of flu hit Southeast Asia, the spot where most flu strains originate. Vaccines are grown in eggs, which is why those with egg allergies should stay away. For the future, Goldbaum believes genetic vaccines will replace more traditional medications.
According to state and county Web sites, flu symptoms are about what you likely think they are: fever, headache, dry cough, muscle aches, tiredness and weakness, with congestion in the nose, throat and lungs.
Children may experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but those symptoms are uncommon in adults. The symptoms usually last three to five days.
Incidentally, Goldbaum said flu is a respiratory illness. There is no such thing as stomach flu.
What should one do after it becomes evident the illness has set up shop?
A virus is the cause of the flu, notes Goldbaum, and there is no cure. In most cases, patients simply have to ride the sickness out. The state health department recommends bed rest and plenty to drink. For pain, take products containing acetaminophen, not aspirin. Parents especially shouldnt give aspirin to children with flu-like symptoms.
According to Pate, the flu is not a reportable disease, but still carefully tracked by county and state health officials. Goldbaum said while the flu itself is no fun, what alarms most doctors is the potential for problems secondary to the flu.
In most cases, your body fights and eventually beats the virus, Goldbaum said. The challenge with influenza is if the patient is already weak, they can become weaker.
The biggest threat is that flu can develop into pneumonia, Goldbaum said, especially among older populations.
There is a vaccination for that sickness as well, although Goldbaum admitted it is not as well advertised as flu vaccines and aimed almost exclusively at senior citizens.
While Goldbaum said the elderly are the most vulnerable to flu and its potential for complications, children are the transporters of the flu virus. He noted they tend to be a lot more mobile, travel in groups and less worried about washing their hands or covering their mouths when coughing. The statement might sound cliched, but Goldbaum said hand washing really is a great defense against flu and other illnesses.
The county regularly monitors absentee rates at local school districts. Red flags go up when the number of kids staying home because of illness reaches 10 percent. In Marysville, Assistant Superintendent Gail Miller said there have been scattered reports about students who have flu like symptoms, but confirmed cases of the illness have been minimal.
People call a lot of things the flu, she said.
Officials at the Arlington and Lakewood school districts did not return phone calls. But Pate said no Snohomish County school district has reported any unusual problems.
Pate said there is no shortage of flu vaccine and your primary physician should have no problem providing a flu shot. If you dont have or cant visit your regular doctor for whatever reason, Pate added the health district still has plenty of flu vaccine available at its clinics in Everett and Lynnwood.
Closer to home, flu shots are available at several local pharmacies and food stores, including Haggen Food and Pharmacy and Fred Meyer. Each store has its own policy on pricing and appointments, so call ahead.