Those who have not obtained a vaccination against influenza might have a harder time finding somewhere that still has the immunization available at this point in the flu season.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains that the best way to avoid coming down with the flu is to obtain a yearly vaccination. The CDC also recommends that children who are six months and older receive a flu shot, as well as adults who are 65 or older, pregnant women, or those with asthma or other chronic lung diseases, heart disease, blood disorders, or several other diseases who are at high risk for developing flu-related complications.
Symptoms of the flu include a fever of 100 degrees or more, cough, sore throat, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, headache, nausea, chills, and fatigue. The flu can be contagious before a carrier even begins to show symptoms, so covering coughs and sneezes, frequent hand washing, and staying home when sick can all help prevent the spread of the flu.
According to the Washington State Department of Health’s statewide influenza update for the week that ended Jan. 10, flu activity is now characterized as “geographically widespread” in Washington, meaning it has been identified in most regions.
The department of health’s flu update shows 550 lab-confirmed cases of the flu throughout Washington so far this flu season. There were 144 cases confirmed statewide during the week that ended on Jan. 10 alone.
So far the most prevalent strain of the flu confirmed in Washington is H3N2. According to the state’s flu update, 438 of the 550 lab-confirmed cases of the flu so far this season were H3N2 with the rest being confirmed as influenza A (subtyping not performed) or influenza B.
Of those lab-confirmed cases, 45 have resulted in deaths, according to the state’s report. One child under the age of 10 has died from the flu so far this season and most deaths, 31, were patients who were 65 or older.
There have been about 10 lab-confirmed cases of the flu in Klickitat County, according to Margaret Pillon, public health nurse with the Klickitat County Health Department.
“That number is growing slowly. At this time I’m comfortable saying there are 10 confirmed cases countywide. It’s important to distinguish that those are lab-confirmed because if you’re not lab tested; you’re not lab confirmed,” Pillon said.
Historically, February is the worst month for the flu in Washington, according to Erinn Quinn, nursing director with the Klickitat County Health Department. At this point, the county’s health department is referring adult patients to their primary care providers if they need a flu shot, as the health department is currently out of the adult version of the vaccine.
The health department still has flu vaccine available for children, however.
“It’s not too late. It’s just that finding it might be a problem,” Quinn said.
The health department isn’t the only provider running low on flu shots in the area. As of Monday, White Salmon Family Practice only had one flu shot remaining and was trying to obtain more of the vaccine. Flu shots are still available at Hi-School Pharmacy every Monday and Wednesday.
Leni Horst, clinical services manager at NorthShore Medical Group, said the clinic still has flu shots for adults and children, but that anyone who wants one should call first to ensure availability.
“From my perspective as a nurse I see vaccination as a really important piece,” Horst said.
Epitrends, a monthly bulletin on epidemiology and public health in Washington, has noted that while this year’s flu vaccine options protect against multiple strains of the influenza virus, H3N2, which has been the most commonly caught strain, might not be as well covered by the flu shot. The bulletin explains that the H3N2 strain used to make this year’s vaccine differs slightly from the strain from which so many patients are catching the flu.
That said, Horst encourages everyone who can to get a flu shot in order to protect those who cannot, like patients with compromised immune systems, the elderly, or very young children.
“Even if the vaccine is only 20 to 30 percent effective, unlike years in the past where it has been much higher, you’re still decreasing your chances of getting the flu,” Horst said. “From a public health perspective because the risks of vaccination are so small and some protection is better than none we continue to recommend getting the flu vaccine.”