Flu season reaches a crescendo, health officials say

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Flu activity may be cresting on North Olympic Peninsula and around the region, health officials say.

Based on the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it “looks pretty strongly like we’re at the peak, at least in Western Washington,” Dr. Tom Locke, public health officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties, said.

“But it’s a little too early to tell,” he added.

Of the 762 lab specimens statewide that were tested the week ending Jan. 19, 20.5 percent tested positive for influenza.

That’s down from 33.3 percent the week ending Jan. 12 and 27.8 percent the week before.

“We’re over the peak if that pattern holds,” Locke said.

“This might be one of those years when we have a rapid increase and a rapid decrease.”

Locke added: “Given the various numbers, this week and into next week is going to be the peak of the influenza season.”

“Then we’ll see a drop off,” he said.

The state Department of Health said there have been 17 laboratory-confirmed flu deaths so far this winter, 15 of which occurred in people 65 or older.

None of those 17 deaths involved Clallam or Jefferson County residents.

Most of the confirmed flu cases in Washington have been the H3N2 strain, which is associated with more severe symptoms than H1N1 and Influenza B.

All three strains are covered by this year’s vaccine, which remains in good supply at area pharmacies.

New government figures show that flu cases seem to be leveling off nationwide but are still rising in the West.

National statistics show hospitalizations and deaths spiked last week, especially among the elderly, The Associated Press reported.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight children died from the flu last week, bringing the nationwide total of pediatric deaths to 37.

About 100 children die in an average flu season.

In Washington, the flu generally hits eastern Washington before crossing the Cascades.

“This year, we’ve had the opposite,” Locke said.

The state Health Department said 22.8 percent of western Washington lab tests were confirmed influenza, and 18 percent of eastern Washington samples were the flu.

While levels of non-influenza respiratory illness are on the rise, Locke said those with true influenza are at the greatest risk of complications.

Influenza-like illness is defined as a fever of 100 degrees or higher with a cough or sore throat.

People who come down with the flu can be sick with a fever for five to seven days, and be contagious for 10 to 14 days.

Health officials stress hand hygiene and recommend that people with the flu stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone to avoid spreading the virus.

Rest, liquids and over the counter medicines are common treatments. Antibiotics don’t work against a viral illness.

For more information, see the state health department website at www.doh.wa.gov/ or the Centers for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov/flu.

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

Last modified: January 27. 2013 6:12PM
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