Officials: Flu likely to hit here

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WALLA WALLA — The nation’s spreading influenza outbreak has not hit rural Washington yet, but there’s no reason to think Walla Walla will escape, according to health officials.

Flu activity is widespread across the state, noted the Washington state Department of Health. Data suggests this flu season is more severe than the previous, and is leading to hospital emergency room visits in numbers greatly exceeding the average on the west side of the state, with six deaths in the first week of flu season.

There have been hospitalizations here as well, said Harvey Crowder, administrator for Walla Walla County Health Department. This year’s influenza strain, while a good match with the season’s vaccine, is tending to be more severe than in recent years, he said.

Because this area is a little behind the curve, getting a flu shot is a still-viable option, but folks will need to do so as soon as possible, Crowder said. “At the most convenient location.”

That might not be as simple as it sounds for adults. This morning, places that don’t have adult vaccine in stock included Walla Walla Clinic, Walmart, Rite Aid and Albertsons pharmacies. While Walmart is done with its vaccination clinics for the year, others are waiting for shipments or seeking a source for the vaccine.

That includes the Walla Walla County Health Department, said Vikki Davis, director of population health. “We were out by Friday, although we have lots of kids’ vaccine available. But the adult doses are not available at the manufacturer.”

The U.S. Drug and Food Administration said Monday it has approved influenza vaccines from seven manufacturers, and collectively they have produced an estimated 135 million doses of this season’s flu vaccine for the U.S.; more than 128 million of those doses have been or will be distributed, the agency said.

In the meantime, those with fevers, coughs and body aches need to stay home and their employers need that as well, Crowder said. “We encourage the boss to send sick people home so there is not a prolonged lack of work force.”

For the best medicine not in a needle, take pain reliever and drink liquids. “And wash your hands. A lot,” he said, adding that warm, soapy water does the best job, while alcohol-based hand sanitizers come in a somewhat distant second. “And cover your cough.”

A typical flu patient can expect the illness to last five to seven days, Crowder noted, “with a fairly prolonged recovery. And we want people to stay home for 24 hours after their fever breaks.”

He is meeting with community health partners on Thursday to map out plans to handle a flood of flu cases, should the need arise, Crowder said.

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