The article below ran in the Oct. 22, 2014 edition of the Moscow Pullman Daily News, which has graciously granted permission for Gritman to republish the story here.
An early start to flu season; Health officials urge community to get vaccinated
By Samantha Malott, Daily News staff writer
While the flu is commonly associated with cold weather, recent
cases in Whitman County are showing influenza may be hitting the area
earlier this year.
Troy Henderson, director of the Whitman County
Public Health, said the department received 10 confirmed lab cases of
the flu in the past week. At Washington State University, according to a
news release from the school, the student health center has diagnosed
31 cases of the flu since Sept. 28.
"It's a little bit sooner than normal," Henderson said.
Most of what has been seen so far in Whitman County
and at WSU have been Type A influenza. The symptoms commonly associated
with the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches,
headaches and fatigue, Henderson said.
"It is usually about a week for symptoms," he said.
The important thing to remember about the flu, though, is how easily it can be spread.
"You can be contagious ... two to three days before
you have any symptoms," said Susie Christopher, who is a registered
nurse at Gritman Medical Center's occupational health department. "You
can share the virus three to five days after your fever is over and you
get to feeling better. ... This is partly what makes it so contagious."
Along with the easy spread of influenza, Christopher
said the early onset may have been affected by less immunity built up in
the community. It has probably started early enough that a lot of
people haven't been vaccinated or had just been vaccinated, so the
vaccine wasn't effective yet, she said. The flu shot takes approximately
two weeks to become fully effective, she added.
Flu shots are available throughout the area at local drug stores, medical centers and student health centers.
Christopher said many of the concerns expressed about
the flu shot - such as it won't last long enough, people believing they
need more than one shot or that it won't target the right strain - are
not entirely correct.
"People used to think that if you got (the flu) you
would need a second vaccine, and that is not true," she said. "The
Centers for Disease Control does not recommend that you get a second
Anna Olsen, an epidemiologist for Idaho Public Health
North Central District, said the vaccine is developed to last through
the entire season, from approximately October to April.
"Now would be an ideal time to get a flu shot," she said.
Christopher said the vaccine is the community's best defense.
"It's not something we can always avoid, even using
the best hand hygiene," she said. "It mutates and changes really easy.
It makes it hard to predict which strains are going to be there and when
they will appear."
The recent outbreak at the university is a reminder
of the dangers the flu poses to everyone, Christopher said. It can
affect everyone from children to the elderly to seemingly healthy young
people, she said. University campuses, however, can be particularly
dangerous with so many people in such close proximity to one another,
Vaccines are created with a high level of efficiency,
so that even if the influenza mutates the vaccine will offer
cross-protection, Christopher said.
Henderson said the earlier start to the flu season
may not necessarily mean it will be bad year for flu. He said he has not
heard anything about this season's symptoms being any more extreme than
Christopher said severity can vary widely from season
to season because of the type of flu, how much vaccine is available,
when it is available, when an individual gets vaccinated and how well it
matches the virus.
Influenza equals unpredictable, she said.
"If you are ill, stay home," Olson said, also recommending for people to frequently wash their hands and commonly-used surfaces.