Flu season still active but ‘over the hump,’ official says

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

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Flu is still widespread in Western Washington, but it appears that the worst of it is over.

The percentage of influenza-positive lab tests from samples processed in state labs fell sharply — from 35.2 percent to 20.3 percent — from Jan. 12 to Feb. 2, the state Department of Health announced Friday.

“That’s generally a sign that we’re over the hump, that we’re past the peak of the outbreak,” said Dr. Tom Locke, public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.

But at the current rate, Locke predicted that it will be “several more weeks” before the flu subsides for the year.

“We’re still very much in flu season,” he cautioned.

“We’re seeing a lot of people with influenza-like illness.

“It’s pretty much the same pattern it’s been all flu season, in which the H3N2 strain is dominate.”

H3N2 flu is associated with more severe symptoms than the H1N1 and Influenza B strains that were prevalent in recent years.

The Health Department reported 34 flu-associated deaths between Sept. 30 through Wednesday, none of which involved North Olympic Peninsula residents.

There were 18 flu deaths in Washington state during the 2011-2012 flu season and 36 the previous year.

The record for flu deaths in Washington occurred during the H1N1 swine flu outbreak of 2009-2010, when 98 died.

Twenty-seven of the 34 who died this year were 65 and older.

Locke declared the start of the flu season in Clallam and Jefferson counties in late December.

The declaration meant that health care workers at Olympic Medical Center, Jefferson Healthcare and Forks Community Hospital must wear a mask around their patients if they haven’t had a flu shot.

Health officials recommend flu shots for anyone 6 months and older.

This year’s vaccine, which covers all common strains but takes a few weeks to work, is available at area pharmacies.

Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend is “definitely seeing a lot of people with flulike illness in populations that are susceptible to complications, mainly the elderly,” said Locke, who met with officials there Thursday.

Olympic Medical Center spokeswoman Bobby Beeman said the patient census has been stable.

To prevent the spread of flu, health officials stress hand hygiene and recommend that people with the flu stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever subsides.

Flu symptoms include sore throat, fever, cough and generalized aches and pains, Locke said. Some — usually children — experience nausea and vomiting.

People who come down with the flu can be sick with a fever for five to seven days, and be contagious for 10 to 14 days.

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 10. 2013 6:07PM
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