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Flu Hitting Local Community Early

Vaccines limited say health officials

It's mid-December and the flu has arrived in the White Salmon-Bingen area. The good news however, is -- so far at least -- the local health impact does not appear to be anywhere close to critical.

"We don't have any inpatients with the flu," said Beth Robison, infection control supervisor with Skyline Hospital. "There are not a lot more people sick, but the difference is, it's hitting earlier. And it seems to be hitting children more this year. It's not in real high numbers, but it's here and we need to guard against it."

The symptoms are standard for the flu: high fever, chills, nausea, a dry cough.

"It's Type A influenza," explained Terry Rundell, nursing director at the Klickitat County Health Department. "Usually we don't get it this early. Usually it's January or just before Christmas. It's hitting younger kids. We usually don't get that; that's different. Kids don't have the immunities. It may be a new strain."

Rundell advised parents to keep a close watch on their kids.

"If someone gets sick, especially with children, check with the doctor if the temperature stays high and won't come down," she said.

Rundell noted that when someone gets sick, it often comes on suddenly.

"It sets in really quickly," she explained. "You can go to work in the morning, and by that afternoon or evening you know you're sick and want to be in bed."

Robison said the hospital is running low on the flu vaccine, and specific groups are being given priority for the vaccinations.

"We have a little bit left," she explained. "We're trying to make sure we've given it to all the employees here that have patient contact. If we have more after that, we'll give it out to those most at high risk."

Health officials are giving priority for flu shots to those in several categories, including:

Adults over 65;

Pregnant women in second or third trimester;

Healthy children between 6-23 months old;

Anybody over 2 years old who has a chronic illness; and

Health care workers.

"At the beginning of the year, we were told there was plenty of vaccine, but there was a rush on it and now there is not plenty," Robison said.

According to Robison, however, more vaccine is expected within a couple weeks as drug companies release the last of their stocks and other supplies are redistributed.

Rundell pointed out that this year's flu vaccine was targeted at a strain that has "drifted" slightly, making the vaccine less effective.

"It is a similar strain," she explained. "The vaccine offers some protection, but not full protection. It mutated a bit."

Nevertheless, Rundell recommends getting the vaccine for those in the high risk groups.

To help combat the illness, Rundell also suggested "doing the things our grandmas taught us." She singled out hand-washing as one of the most important steps to take, and drink a lot of fluids, especially when ill.

"And stay at home if you have symptoms," Robison added. "That can help prevent the spread of flu. If you feel sick, don't go anywhere, don't be around anybody."

Roger Gadway, director of Klickitat County Senior Services, said he's relieved because there has been no significant impact on local seniors.

"I'm glad I don't have much to report," Gadway said. "I haven't seen a lot of it. It doesn't seem like any worse than normal."

The story was less rosy at Henkle Middle School, however. Wanda Mansfield, a Henkle staff member who tracks student attendance as part of her duties, said what she is seeing this year is not typical.

"It's a larger number than usual," Mansfield explained. "We probably have 20-25 kids out sick today [Dec. 16], and last week even more were absent."

Henkle has a total enrollment of 380.

"Yesterday, six kids left during the day," Mansfield added. "They got to school and didn't feel well. It's not a huge number, but it's more than we usually see. And kids are out for several days when they're gone."

Rundell advised residents against complacency.

"I don't think it's peaked yet," she said.

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