Flu season arrives early

Flu has hit Snohomish County unusually early this year, with doctors in Everett and Sultan already reporting cases.

"The flu season is here and is full blown," said Dr.Yuan-Po Tu of The Everett Clinic, who is part of a national flu monitoring system for the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We’re seeing a lot of activity very, very early in the season," he said.

Thirty of 40 Everett Clinic patients tested since the first of the month for the virus came back positive. The flu cases were reported throughout the county, from the organization’s clinics in Stanwood, Silver Lake, Everett, Snohomish and Harbour Pointe.

"There’s no one hot pocket," Tu said. "It’s all over the place."

So far, The Everett Clinic has administered 18,000 flu shots.

More than 3,100 patients have gotten shots from the Snohomish Health District. At least 400 people were immunized in Monroe last weekend at Valley General Hospital’s health fair.

Most years, the flu season peaks in Washington in January and February, so patients can get their flu shots through Christmas.

This year, it’s different. "If you’re not vaccinated, get it done now, don’t wait," Tu advised.

A doctor at the Sky Valley Family Medicine Clinic in Sultan said he’s had eight patients since Sunday whose test results have come back positive for flu.

"I don’t know why we’re seeing it out here in the numbers we are," Dr. Mark Raney said, adding that many cases are among 13- to 18-year-olds. "This is two months earlier than what I normally see out here."

Information was sent home to parents at one elementary school in the Monroe School District stressing the importance of hand-washing to prevent spread of the flu after one young student became ill last week, spokeswoman Rosemary O’Neil said. A decision was made Wednesday to send out similar messages in newsletters to the district’s other schools.

The trend of an unusually early flu season is being seen across the nation, said Cindy Gleason, health educator for the state Health Department. Texas has been hardest hit, with Washington one of 18 states reporting sporadic cases, according to a CDC Web site.

The disease is easily spread through sneezing, Gleason said, so it’s important for people to remember to properly dispose of tissues and to thoroughly wash their hands with warm water and soap to help slow the spread of the virus.

Anti-viral medications can slightly shorten the length of time a patient has the flu, but they have to be taken within the first 48 hours after symptoms begin, said Dr. Jo Hofmann, the state Health Department’s epidemiologist for communicable disease. The medications cost between $19 and $60, Raney said.

Do the early flu cases mean Washington is headed for a bad flu season this year?

"Not necessarily," state Health Department spokesman Donn Moyer said. "But it might be long."

Reporter Sharon Salyer:

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