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10/22/2014 12:00:00 AM PACIFIC
Updated: 10/22/2014 4:45:17 PM PACIFIC
For more information, contact Peter Mundt.
Moscow-Pullman Daily News carries flu vaccination information

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 vaccine."

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, she said.

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 normal.

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.



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