Flu season intensifies on Peninsula; officials expect more cases to arise

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Health officials have confirmed 46 influenza cases, and figure many more exist, on the North Olympic Peninsula as flu season roars into full form.

“We're definitely in this rapid upswing in the flu outbreak,” Dr. Tom Locke, public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said Friday.

“We're in a stage where it's going to get worse before it gets better.”

The good news is this year's vaccine matches circulating strains, and there's plenty to go around.

Flu shots are available at pharmacies, doctors' offices and other locations across the Peninsula.

Locke said that there were 39 laboratory-confirmed flu cases in Clallam County as of Friday — up from four cases the week prior.

All of those positive samples were H1N1 swine flu, which caused a pandemic in 2009.

H1N1 tends to affect more young people than last year's predominate H3N2 strain, Locke said.

Jefferson County had seven lab-confirmed flu cases as of last check Monday, Locke said. Those tests did not distinguish between the strains.

The Peninsula's 46 known flu cases were confirmed at Olympic Medical Center and Jefferson Healthcare labs.

Samples are tested only if the patient suffers from complications and checks into an emergency room or clinic, suggesting there have been far more than 46 people who have had the flu already.

“They're certainly seeing flu-like illnesses in Forks,” Locke said. “They're seeing it all over the Peninsula.”

The state Department of Health confirmed 11 flu-related deaths statewide.

None of those deaths occurred on the Peninsula.

In addition to the flu shot, health officials recommend good hygiene to slow the spread of flu.

“Now is the time for people to be extra vigilant,” Locke said.

“They may be tired of hearing us say it, but it's 'stay home when you're sick, wash hands and cover your cough.'”

Locke declared the official start of flu season for Clallam and Jefferson counties Jan. 3. The declaration triggered a requirement for health care workers to wear masks around patients if they haven't had a flu shot.

Locke said the timing of this year's outbreak is “almost a mirror image to last year.”

“Last year was a bad flu year,” he added.

“This year, it's tracking right around the same. It started around Christmas and peaked in late January and early February.”

Last year's predominant H3N2 strain “tends to be more severe” than H1N1, Locke said, and results in higher rates of hospitalizations and death.

However, H1N1 can also lead to severe complications and tends to affect children, young adults and middle-aged adults more than older people who were exposed to a similar virus in the 1950s and '60s, Locke said.

Reports from the East Coast indicate that flu season is peaking there. The East Coast is typically a month or so ahead of the West Coast for flu activity, Locke said.

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

Last modified: January 15. 2014 10:27AM
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