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Public health officials say flu season still on the way

Moscow-Pullman Daily News - 12/19/2017

Dec. 19--Cases of flu locally have been few and far between, but public health officials are warning the bug could still strike in the coming weeks.

"We've had some positive tests in the area, but it's certainly not widespread," said Bob Kendrick, chief nursing officer at Gritman Medical Center.

Director of Whitman County Public Health Troy Henderson said flu activity in Whitman County has been lower than average for this time of year, however, the term "flu season" can be misleading.

"Flu season is kind of a misnomer because influenza can strike anytime during the year," Henderson said, "but the health officer does designate a flu season because the hospitals and some medical clinics have different precautions they take for their staff and patients."

Henderson said contrary to popular belief, flu season typically peaks in February or March. He said the lower than average flu activity could be due to a number of factors, including warmer weather and more people seeking vaccinations, but he doesn't expect it to last.

"The fact that we haven't seen a lot thus far, I suspect, will probably change after the Christmas break," Henderson said.

A major factor in Latah and Whitman counties, Henderson said, is a population that tends to travel a lot. With most students heading home for the holidays, Henderson and Kendrick agreed their return has the potential to bring an influx of new cases.

"It certainly has an impact," Kendrick said, "because when they leave and go home and come back, they bring they bring everything with them, including flu virus and things like that."

Kendrick said it's still too early to know if manufacturers have produced enough of the right kinds of vaccine to meet demand. He said epidemiologists will make forecasts each year for what strains to expect, but there's no knowing how accurate they'll be.

"It's a little bit of a crapshoot," Kendrick said.

Mike Larson, division administrator for Public Health Idaho North Central District, said the dominant strain of influenza this season will differ from recent years. Larsen said the strain H1N1 has been the most common kind of flu virus in circulation for at least the last seven years.

"This year it's the H3N2, which is just generally a little bit more aggressive and people will usually get a little bit more sick with it," Larsen said.

Kendrick stressed it's still early in the season, and it's not too late to get a flu shot. There's no silver bullet for the flu, Kendrick said, but the vaccine gives the patient the best chance of fighting back.

"You certainly don't have to get a flu shot," Kendrick said, "but the very best science that we have recommends that you do get a flu shot."

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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(c)2017 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho)

Visit the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho) at www.dnews.com

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