Okanogan County has been walloped by the flu, with more than twice the number of cases compared to last year.
There were about 260 positive flu tests in the county as of December, Okanogan County Community Health Director Lauri Jones said. The county is still awaiting numbers for January cases.
While the flu can make someone feel miserable from aches, fever, coughing and sneezing, most people have a mild illness and the flu usually clears up in a week, Jones said. But this week, Okanogan County Public Health reported one pediatric death due to complications of influenza B. This was the fifth child in the state to die from complications of the flu this season.
“The flu strain currently circulating in our county and over the last several weeks is predominantly Influenza B, which has particularly hit our young people hard. We are deeply saddened for the family and their loss,” Jones said in a press release. They’re not disclosing the age or location to protect the family, she said by email.
As of Jan. 18 — before the Okanogan County case — the Washington Department of Health (DOH) had confirmed 38 deaths statewide connected with the flu — 34 adults and four children. Most deaths occurred in people with underlying health conditions and in the elderly, according to DOH.
The number of flu cases in Okanogan County is likely higher than reported because clinics don’t necessarily do a definitive flu swab when someone has flu symptoms, Jones said. “All I know is they’ve been inundated,” she said.
Not out of the ordinary
While the Methow Valley schools have seen new cases of fly every week — and of another virus with flu-like symptoms — the cases aren’t out of the ordinary for flu season, school nurse Adriana Vanbianchi said this week. Most students have gotten better within three to four days, she said.
Vanbianchi said she checks in regularly with local clinics and with the county and state health departments and is ready to take action if there’s heightened concern about the disease.
The widespread cases in Okanogan County are consistent with the rest of the state, Jones said. People who traveled over the holidays and students who travel for sports and other school activities can transmit the disease over a broad geographic area.
The flu is spread by droplets from coughing or sneezing. It can be contagious before symptoms develop.
Standard flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose and body aches that come on more quickly than a cold. Anyone with serious symptoms, including trouble breathing, chest pain, severe muscle pain (for example, a child refusing to walk), dizziness, or fever above 104 degrees, should seek immediate medical attention, DOH said.
Young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions are at high risk and should contact their health care provider if they have flu symptoms.
If taken within the first 48 to 72 hours, anti-viral medication can decrease the longevity of illness, Jones said. These drugs are especially important for people at risk of serious complications from the flu, but are not necessary for otherwise healthy people, according to DOH. Because influenza is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not effective.
Anyone who has the flu should stay home from school or work, cover their cough, wash their hands, and drink plenty of fluids. People should wait for 24 hours without a fever before returning to school or work.
There are two main types of flu this year — type A and B. The flu vaccine has been more effective against type A. Type B has afflicted children more than adults, Okanogan County Community Health Director Lauri Jones said.
Vaccine developers predict the strains of flu a year in advance to create the vaccine, and incorporate multiple strains of each type to get the best protection. Sometimes the vaccine doesn’t provide as much protection as they intended, Jones said.
Still, people who’ve been vaccinated get a much milder case of flu if they do get the disease, Jones said.
Getting the vaccine now will provide important protection, since last year flu cases didn’t peak until March, Jones said. The vaccine starts building antibodies right away and provides immunity within eight to 10 days. The vaccine is recommended for everyone over 6 months, including pregnant women, according to the state Department of Health (DOH).