By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Dr. Tom Locke, public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, made the declaration Friday after reviewing the latest state data with Kitsap County Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Lindquist.
The dominant strain statewide is swine flu, health officials say.
But unlike the 2009-10 flu season, when there was a national shortage of the vaccine, this year's flu shots are readily available at pharmacies across the state.
The joint declaration in Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties means health care workers in the three counties are required to wear masks if they have not been immunized.
Most employees at Olympic Medical Center, Jefferson Healthcare and Forks Community Hospital already have had flu shots.
“We went over the data, and we both agreed that all the parameters we use for declaring the flu season are there,” Locke said.
“In Washington state, it looks like it's going to get worse before it gets better.”
Flu is on the increase nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Four cases of influenza have been confirmed so far in Clallam County, one of which required hospitalization at OMC.
“Likewise, in Jefferson County, we're starting to see an upswing of it,” Locke said.
Judging by information from medical professionals in Jefferson County, flu is showing up, according to Locke, but suspected cases had not been confirmed by lab tests as of Friday.
Three of the four confirmed cases in Clallam County were H1N1, or swine flu, which emerged as an epidemic four years ago.
The peak of flu season varies from year to year, Locke said.
In some years, flu crests around the holidays, while in other years, it “just smoulders” into February or March.
“It's really unpredictable how fast we'll see the spread or what the peak will be,” Locke said.
The state Department of Health recommends a flu shot for anyone older than 6 months.
It usually takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect.
A flu shot is especially important for vulnerable populations: young children, people older than 65, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or neurologic conditions, health officials said.
“It's only too late to get it if you actually have influenza,” Locke said.
Besides getting a flu shot, health officials stress covering coughs, washing hands and staying home when sick to prevent the spread of influenza.
Common symptoms of the flu are fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches and fatigue, the state Health Department said.
The flu is highly contagious and more serious than the common cold. It can cause complications that lead to hospitalization and death.
There have been five laboratory-confirmed flu-related deaths in the state this flu season, the first of which involved a Tri-Cities-area woman in her 50s, the state Health Department said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.