Stock up on cough syrup: Flu season has arrived, doctors say

Area clinics report they’re beginning to see the onset of flu season, but it’s still too early to know how long and how severe it will be this year.

“It’s here,” Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who tracks influenza cases for The Everett Clinic, said Friday.

“It’s not huge numbers yet, but I expect the number of flu cases to continue to rise for the next several weeks.”

The uptick in flu cases is part of a state and national trend. Unlike some other communicable diseases, influenza cases are tracked informally, with a network of clinics reporting the number of cases they see each week, giving state and federal health officials an estimate of its spread.

Flu’s symptoms, which include high fever and body aches, come on quickly. Symptoms of a cold include sniffles and a mild cough, usually without fever.

“With the flu, one minute you feel fine and in two hours you feel like a bus hit you; that’s the difference between a cold and the flu,” said Lisa Carroll, clinic manager at Providence Everett Healthcare Clinic.

The danger with influenza is that it can cause other health problems, such as pneumonia. Infants, young children and the elderly are particularly at risk. Each year, about 36,000 people die from flu and its complications, Tu noted.

This year the spread of influenza may be blunted for several reasons, he said. Many people were vaccinated against the virus. Unlike last year, when the shot was less effective, it seems to be well matched to the strains of influenza circulating this year. And many children, who are easily infected by the flu and spread it to others, were immunized.

The state Department of Health is receiving reports of influenza from throughout Eastern, Southwest and Western Washington, said Erin Chester, who monitors influenza for the state Department of Health. “There’s definitely an increase in activity.”

Nationally, influenza is hitting the East Coast the hardest, where it’s widespread, she said. Its spread is a little slower on the West Coast.

Dr. Stephen Carter, at Edmonds Family Medicine Clinic, said he’s seen an increase in flu cases over the past three weeks.

“The flu patients I’ve seen, you can tell when you walk in the room,” he said. “Typically they’re lying on the (exam) table with the hooded sweatshirt pulled over their head.”

In addition to flu, Carter said he’s seeing patients with colds, upper respiratory viral infections and pneumonia cases in relatively healthy 20- to 40-year-olds.

In Sultan, Dr. Mark Raney at Sky Valley Family Medicine, said he, too, is seeing a trickle of flu cases, mostly among children.

Schools in Everett, Muk­ilteo and Edmonds in general aren’t seeing an unusual increase in absenteeism.

“If it’s hit at all, it’s hit in the north end of the district,” Mukilteo School District spokesman Andy Muntz said.

In the Everett School District, Jackson High School has the highest absentee numbers, said spokeswoman Mary Waggoner. But it’s still well below the 10 percent level when schools report absences to health officials.

Area clinics generally report that they have remaining stock of flu vaccine for anyone who wants it. It takes about 10 days for the shot to be fully protective. The cost generally ranges between $25 and $30.

The shot is recommended for children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years of age.

In addition to flu, Tu said he has been seeing patients at with upper respiratory illnesses, and coughs, runny noses and sore throats.

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