After a slow start this season, influenza cases in Jefferson County are now increasing.
“What we know is from the lab tests. The hospital lab does have an influenza test that they do, and there have been 26 positive tests so far this (season),” said Lisa McKenzie, Jefferson County Public Health Communicable Disease Program coordinator. “The first positive test they had was Dec. 16. It is definitely in our community.”
Low flu activity resulted in fewer patients staying at Jefferson Healthcare in December, Hilary Whittington, the chief financial and administrative officer, said during the regular session of the Hospital Commission meeting Jan 23.
“We had one of the slowest months that we’ve seen,” Whittington said. “Typically the flu season kicks up in December, so the decrease you see in patient volumes is because it is the holidays and folks would rather not be spending their time here. Usually that is offset by the flu season kicking in. The later flu season resulted in this being an exceptionally slow month.”
So far, all the tests have been positive for Type A, with no Type B confirmed as of Feb. 8, McKenzie said.
“Type A tends to cause the bigger widespread outbreaks, but both of them can be serious,” she said. “They can both lead to serious diseases. Type B does not tend to cause as big of outbreaks. Usually in the flu season, there is a mix and both of them present. Oftentimes, Type B shows up a little later in the season.”
Statewide, 97.2 percent of flu cases have been Type A and 2.8 percent have been Type B, McKenzie said.
“There is some B spreading around,” she said. “In many seasons, we see more cases of Type B coming up a little later in the season. We might see more B coming up in our season here later this year.”
Despite an uptick, no deaths as a result of flu have been reported this season in the county, McKenzie said.
“Washington state, they have had 31 (deaths) so far this season,” she said. “But it certainly can happen in younger groups.”
There have been at least 24 deaths among children so far this season statewide, McKenzie said.
“Sometimes it really is healthy young people who really don’t have any other real risk factors other than they are really young,” she said. “They can die of the flu. In those cases, it can develop into a viral pneumonia.”
Not too late
Although flu season is underway, it is not too late to get an immunization, McKenzie said.
“While we have had kind of a slower start, it is really picking up, and the peak of the flu season really varies year to year,” she said. “It can be anywhere from December to March, where it can peak. The average is usually some time in January or February. But we have had some seasons where it doesn’t peak until March. And, with the later start this year, it might extend through March and even into April.”
Once a vaccination is received, it can take up to two weeks for the recipient to receive maximum protection, McKenzie said.
“While we all know that flu shots aren’t 100 percent (effective), for many people it will fully protect them from getting influenza,” she said. “For others, it will prevent the disease from being so severe. Some people will get the flu anyway, but they don’t get the severe side effects. They won’t end up in the hospital. They are very worth getting.”
Other forms of prevention include covering coughs, washing hands and staying home from work or school when sick, McKenzie said.
“People should stay at home when they are sick because they are contagious, especially in the first few days and especially while they have a fever,” she said. “We recommend people stay home an extra 24 hours after their fever is gone. That way, they are not bringing it to their coworkers or school and having everybody else share in it.”
McKenzie encourages those who think they have the flu to check in with their primary care physician immediately.
“With the flu, the onset usually is very sudden,” she said. “All of a sudden you feel like you have been hit with something. Whereas with a cold virus, it can be really more gradual over a few days.”
Once diagnosed, patients could be prescribed with antiviral medication, McKenzie said.
“Antivirals, to work the best, need to be started within 48 hours of symptom onset,” she said. “The sooner the better.”
It may take a week or two for a person to fully recover from the flu, so they should get plenty of rest and stay hydrated, McKenzie said.
“People can seem like they are really getting better, but then it can just drag on, especially the fatigue,” she said.