Early flu cases could indicate a bad year

Flu has arrived in Snohomish County, signaling the beginning of what could be a bad year for the annual winter bug.

The number of patients coming into area clinics with flu symptoms such as severe body aches, fatigue, high fever and a sore throat began to increase about two weeks ago.

Dr. Ross Carey, at Edmonds Family Medicine, said he saw his first flu patient the day after Thanksgiving.

Carey said the patient hoped to return to work on the following Monday. “I said, ‘No, you’re infectious.’ You usually miss at least a week of work.”

Some patients feel that because they’re young and healthy they don’t need a flu shot, he said. Flu can trigger bacterial pneumonia, which is what killed a woman he knew on her 32nd birthday, Carey said.

Yet even with such stories, it can still be tough to convince people that they need a flu shot, Carey said.

Last week, federal health officials said that this is one of the earliest onsets of seasonal or nonpandemic influenza in nearly a decade.

“This could be a bad flu year,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said during a teleconference.

This year’s flu vaccine is well-matched with the influenza that is circulating this year, he said.

Nationally, flu is widespread in New York, Alaska, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina and Ohio.

In Washington, an uptick in cases has been reported in the Puget Sound region, but overall the number of cases in the state remains fairly low, said Kathy Lofy, medical epidemiologist for the state Department of Health.

Even with the recent reports of the onset of flu season, it’s not too late to get a flu shot, she said. It takes about 10 days for the vaccination to provide protection. “Now is a great time to get vaccinated,” she said.

The immunization is recommended for anyone 6 months or older. With 135 million doses of the vaccine available this year, there are ample supplies.

The Snohomish Health District has had only one report of school absenteeism rates exceeding 10 percent, Shelton View Elementary School in the Northshore School District, said health district spokeswoman Suzanne Pate.

The specific Type A strain of flu circulating this year historically has been associated with higher rates of medical complications and hospitalization for those 65 and older, said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who monitors influenza issues at The Everett Clinic.

Swine flu or h1n1 flu, which triggered a worldwide epidemic starting in 2009, tended to cause more severe illness in younger people.

Even though this year’s virus tends to hit older adults harder, it doesn’t mean younger people shouldn’t get innoculated, he said.

Like with many diseases, infants are particularly vulnerable to complications from the flu. Nationally five infants have died from influenza since September.

At The Everett Clinic, the number of patients testing positive in initial rapid tests for influenza jumped from 11 percent for the week ending Nov. 25 to 20 percent for the week ending Dec. 2.

“This is clearly the beginning of influenza season in Snohomish County,” he said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

For answers to some commonly asked questions about the flu, check the state Department of Health website at http://1.usa.gov/SEKWnt

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