Flu is 'widespread' in Washington

Six deaths have been confirmed as caused by influenza this season

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Local angle

By Marissa Harshman

The seasonal flu is hitting residents across Clark County.

The flu level in Clark County continues to tick upward after first flaring up in mid-December — about two months earlier than normal, said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer.

“It looks like the numbers are going up significantly and earlier this year,” he said.

In addition, the flu strain circulating — the H3N2 strain of influenza A — is particularly nasty.

“H3N2 causes more severe illness than H1N1 (swine flu),” Melnick said.

One Clark County resident has died from influenza this year. A woman in her 80s, who had other underlying medical conditions, died recently, Melnick said.

The flu can circulate throughout a community for a few months, said Melnick, adding that it’s still not too late to get a flu vaccine.


Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.

Businesses advised to get ready for flu

By Gordon Oliver

The U.S. Small Business Administration is warning companies to prepare their businesses and employees for increased flu activity with a seven-point plan to maintain business continuity (http://flu.gov/planning-preparedness/business.)

• Identify a workplace coordinator as a single point of contact for all issues relating to a flu outbreak. This person will be responsible for reaching out to community health providers and implementing protocols for dealing with ill employees in advance of any outbreak or impact on the business.

•  Re-examine and update leave policies, telework options and employee compensation,

• Post signs or host a flu vaccination clinic for employees.

•  Identify essential em­ployees, essential busi­ness functions and critical jobs; make plans to maintain communication and ensure clear work direction with critical personnel and vendors.

•  Share your plans for flu and other pandemics with employees and clearly communicate expectations by posting your preparedness plan, leave information, health tips, and other flu awareness resources across all your work locations and online.

•  Prepare business continuity plans so that absenteeism and other workplace challenges can be addressed early on to maintain business operations.

•  Establish an emergency communication plan that documents your key business contacts (with back-ups), the chain of communications (including suppliers and customers), and processes for tracking and communicating business and employee status.

photoPAUL CARTER/The (Eugene) Register Guard Sophia Stricker, 17 months, endures a flu shot from nurse Katy Whitman on Friday in Eugene, Ore. Clark County Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick says it's still not too late to get a flu vaccine.

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SEATTLE -- Fever, cough and headache caused by the flu are now widespread in Washington, the state Department of Health said Friday.

Previously the flu had been at a regional level. It was upgraded in a new report, meaning the flu is in more than half of the communities in the state, said spokesman Donn Moyer.

Widespread flu is not unusual -- "We get to widespread flu activity in our state almost every season," Moyer said -- but the activity appears to be increasing and could be worse than the previous two seasons, which were considered mild.

The activity seems to be a little early, he said. It typically peaks in January and February.

"We're ramping up," Moyer said.

Six people have died of the flu so far this season, including one child, all in Western Washington. There were 18 flu deaths in 2011-2012 and 36 the previous year. The most state deaths were 98 in the swine flu season of 2009-2010.

"Every one of these deaths is tragic, especially one that happens to have been a child," Moyer said. "But the numbers are not unusual."

The department reported the first three deaths in December: a 12-year-old Pierce County boy, and a man in his 80s and a woman in her 70s in King County.

Three more December deaths were reported last week by Snohomish County: a Bothell woman in her 40s, an Everett woman in her 80s and an Edmonds woman in her 80s.

Those are lab-confirmed flu deaths. Officials believe the flu is a complicating factor in more deaths.

The department urges residents to take the risk seriously and head off the aches, stuffy nose and fatigue with a flu shot. There's no shortage of the vaccine in the state, Moyer said. The shots are recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months. The state pays for the vaccine for children, although parents may still be charged a fee for the injection.

"We have our fingers crossed people will get shots and do the other things to protect yourself, such as hand-washing," he said.

Health officials recommend that people with the flu stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone to avoid spreading the virus. Rest, liquids and over-the-counter medicines are common treatments. Antibiotics don't work against a viral illness.