Doctors say it’s not too late for flu shots

Allison Arthur
 aarthur@ptleader.com
Posted 1/24/17

The flu season is approaching like a cold winter storm, knocking people down and out and into doctor’s offices and Jefferson Healthcare’s emergency department.

“We have been running so many …

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Doctors say it’s not too late for flu shots

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The flu season is approaching like a cold winter storm, knocking people down and out and into doctor’s offices and Jefferson Healthcare’s emergency department.

“We have been running so many flu tests that our lab nearly ran out of reagent last week,” said Dr. Joe Mattern, chief medical officer for Jefferson Healthcare.

“We have been running an inpatient census of over 18-20 patients on a pretty regular basis. Average for us is 14-15. And I would estimate that at any one time, we have had about 25 percent or more of those patients hospitalized due to influenza,” Mattern said.

So far, patients have not been diverted from the 25-bed medical center to other facilities, he added.

And no one from Jefferson or Clallam counties has died of the flu. Elsewhere in Washington, the state Department of Health reports 46 people have died of laboratory-confirmed influenza.

Dr. Tom Locke, health officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties, said the flu season is approaching a peak in western Washington with hospitals full of people with flu-like symptoms, which include a high fever, cough and body aches.

“The true flu season is upon us, and it’s almost all H3N2. It’s been around since 1968 and it entered the human population as the Hong Kong flu,” he said. “Of the different types that cause seasonal flu, it’s the worse one of the ones that are in circulation.”

Locke said Jefferson County Public Health learned last week that the absenteeism in the Port Townsend School District is more than 10 percent.

“That’s an indicator that there is a widespread community outbreak,” Locke said.

Asked if it’s too late to get the flu shot, Locke said emphatically, “It’s never too late.

“The flu will be circulating for at least another month or longer, and if people want maximum protection at this point, what’s best to do is get the flu shot and take an antiviral medicine as a preventative,” Locke said.

Locke recommends oseltamivir and it’s something only a physician can prescribe, he said.

People at high risk of complications from the flu – the elderly and very young – can get the flu shot and then take the antiviral medication for 10-14 days. The antiviral helps protect the patient while the flu shot kicks in and takes effect, Locke explained.

WHEN TO CALL

Mattern said it’s worth calling a health care provider if you are having flu-like symptoms, because pneumonia can present a lot like the flu.

“High-risk groups – children under 2, pregnant women, adults over age 65 and anyone with chronic lung diseases or immuno-compromised conditions need evaluation if they are starting with symptoms or have a known flu exposure,” Mattern said.

Of the 100 tests ran at the health care center last week, Mattern said about 40 percent tested positive for influenza A and B.

Like Locke, Mattern said it’s not too late to get immunized.

“Hopefully, all these efforts will start to stem the tide and reduce the number of new infections,” Mattern said of more people coming in to get the flu vaccine.

“Staff have been working extremely hard to try to keep up with this surge in activity. They have worked very hard to try to keep up with the community need and deliver care locally,” Mattern said.

Doctors also are recommending frequent handwashing to reduce the spread of the flu.

“In addition to the vaccine, there’s transmission prevention and respiratory etiquette, which is to cover your cough, stay home if you are sick, avoid exposing others and wash hands frequently,” Locke said.

For more information, check out the state Department of Health website at doh.wa.gov.

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