Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, Dr. Tom Locke

Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, Dr. Tom Locke

Flu on the rise on Olympic Peninsula

PORT ANGELES — Flu activity has ratcheted up on the North Olympic Peninsula with spikes in health care visits and positive tests, health officials said.

Olympic Medical Center reported Thursday that the hospital has seen a record numbers of visits to its physician clinics and a “dramatic rise” in influenza-positive samples.

“Flu activity is peaking in our community,” OMC spokeswoman Bobby Beeman said Thursday.

Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, Clallam County health officer, said flu season is “definitely in full force.”

“We’re not seeing record levels at the county level, but we certainly are seeing an upswing in the positive cases,” Unthank said in a Friday interview.

Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County Health Officer, said Jefferson Healthcare also was seeing a high percentage of positive flu tests at about 35 to 40 percent.

Anything over 25 percent is considered to be an outbreak, Locke said.

Flu activity waned slightly in the last month before ramping up for a second time, Locke said. He added that the flu curve is “still going upward.”

“It looks like this year is what’s called a bimodal outbreak, or kind of a twin peak outbreak,” Locke said.

Despite the heightened activity, there had been no laboratory-confirmed influenza deaths in Clallam or Jefferson County as of Friday, the two health officers said.

The state Department of Health reported 70 laboratory-confirmed, influenza-related deaths as of March 2.

Most of those who died from flu complications were 65 or older.

For comparison, there were 67 flu deaths in the state during the entire 2015-2016 flu season, 278 flu deaths in 2016-2017 and 296 in 2017-2018, state officials said.

“Last year was a really bad flu year,” Locke said.

“I don’t think there’s any way this year will be as bad as last year because we’re too late in the season.”

Locke said the H3N2 flu strain has become more prevalent in the second wave of the flu season.

H3N2 is associated with more severe symptoms than the H1N1 flu that was seen earlier in the winter, Locke said.

Common flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“A lot of people think they’ve missed the opportunity to get vaccinated, but its not too late,” Unthank said.

The flu vaccine is available at health care clinics and pharmacies across the North Olympic Peninsula. The vaccine takes about 10 to 14 days to provide the greatest immunity, Locke said.

“It’s likely that it will be around for another month or longer, and we see sporadic cases all year long,” Locke said.

Beeman provided the following tips for preventing infection:

• Avoid close contact with other sick people.

• If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone — without medicine — except to get medical care or for other necessities.

• When sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

• Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

• Wear a mask if you are planning to visit a health care facility.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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