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June 3, 2023

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Flu hitting Clark County hard

1 death reported; number of sick patients surges at area health facilities

By , Columbian Health Reporter
7 Photos
Lab assistant Melissa Cornelison tests nasal swabs for influenza on Tuesday afternoon at PeaceHealth Southwest’s Inpatient Laboratory in Vancouver. The hospital is seeing an influx of patients with the flu.
Lab assistant Melissa Cornelison tests nasal swabs for influenza on Tuesday afternoon at PeaceHealth Southwest’s Inpatient Laboratory in Vancouver. The hospital is seeing an influx of patients with the flu. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Flu season is in full swing, and Clark County is getting hit hard.

One Clark County resident — a man older than 65 — has died from the flu this year. Five long-term care facilities have had confirmed flu outbreaks, with several more reporting an increase in influenza-like illness.

And five local schools have sent notes home to parents regarding elevated influenzalike illness activity on campuses, according to Clark County Public Health.

Local flu activity began to climb in late November and has continued its steady rise since. During the last week of December, the most recent data available, 41 percent of local flu tests came back positive. That’s the highest positivity rate recorded since local health officials began tracking weekly rates in 2014, according to Clark County Public Health.

A positivity rate of more than 10 percent indicates flu transmission is occurring in the community.

“Flu is all around us,” said Dr. Joshua Russell, medical director for Legacy-GoHealth Urgent Care’s Clark County clinics.

Have classic flu symptoms? You likely have the flu

The flu is sweeping through Clark County, sidelining people from work and school.

So how do you know if the crumminess you’re feeling is from the flu, a cold or some other bug?

While a cough and runny nose can be indicative of a cold or the flu, if you’re also feverish and experiencing muscle aches, chances are you’ve got the flu, said Dr. Joshua Russell, medical director of Legacy-GoHealth Urgent Care’s Clark County clinics.

Flu symptoms are fairly nonspecific, Russell said, and often overlap with other illnesses, such as some bacterial infections.

But during cold and flu season, it’s likely that your fever, headache, cough, runny nose and body aches are due to the flu virus, Russell said.

Two things that are not common with the flu, Russell said, are vomiting and diarrhea. While it’s not uncommon to experience nausea with the flu, and maybe even a little vomiting, you shouldn’t have persistent vomiting and diarrhea, he said. Those symptoms, without the presence of a sore throat, cough and runny nose, are more likely caused by food poisoning or some other “stomach bug,” Russell said.

For most people with flu symptoms, the virus will run its course with rest and fluids. Those with symptoms should stay home to prevent spreading the virus to others, Russell said.

“If all you’re feeling is perfectly classic flu symptoms,” he said, “it would probably be safe to stay at home if you’re an otherwise healthy person.”

If you’re not getting better after five or six days, however, Russell recommends seeing a doctor to rule out complications, such as pneumonia. Same goes for those who have trouble breathing, he said.

“It’s not normal to have significant difficulty breathing,” Russell said.

There is no medication to treat the flu — antibiotics do not treat viruses — but there are some medications that can help lessen the symptoms when administered early. Those drugs are typically recommended for those who are younger than 5, older than 65, have underlying health conditions or are pregnant, Russell said.

And while early indications are the flu shot is less effective than ideal, Russell said, he still recommends immunization as the best way to protect yourself.

“It may not prevent the flu, but it can prevent the more severe complications,” he said.

— Marissa Harshman

“If you’re around people who are coughing or sneezing, it would be a good idea to keep Purell around,” he added.

Surge in flu activity

The surge in local flu activity has led to hospitals admitting high numbers of patients with influenza. Traffic at medical clinics, urgent care clinics and emergency departments is up, too.

At PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, about 16 percent of the hospital’s admitted patients on Monday morning had the flu. That’s about what the hospital sees at the peak of a typical flu season, said Heidi Lancaseter-Rice, a hospital infection preventionist, in a news release.

The PeaceHealth Southwest emergency department saw a 15 percent increase in visits on Monday, mainly due to patients reporting influenzalike illness symptoms. The hospital had to call in additional staff to provide care for the surge in patients, according to PeaceHealth spokesman Randy Querin.

At Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, about 17 percent of the hospital’s admitted patients on Monday morning had the flu. Most were high-risk patients — those older than 65 or with other chronic conditions, said Kelly Love, hospital spokeswoman.

Any time the admission rate is above 10 percent, Love said, it’s significant.

The Salmon Creek emergency department is also busier than normal. The hospital hit a new record for patient volume on Jan. 1, when 287 patients were seen in the emergency department, Love said. The ED volume continues to remain high, she said.

Legacy-GoHealth Urgent Care clinics — four of which are in Clark County — are busy and seeing more cases of influenza than prior years, Russell said.

And at Kaiser Permanente, flu cases are up significantly in the metro area. This year, Kaiser has had 390 confirmed flu cases, compared to 203 cases this time last year, said Debbie Karman, Kaiser spokeswoman.

More Kaiser members appear to be taking advantage of video and phone appointments. Those visits are up “significantly,” Karman said. Kaiser is encouraging members who think they may have the flu to consider emailing their provider or scheduling video or phone appointments as a first option, rather than heading to urgent care or emergency department, she said.

Wait times in Kaiser urgent cares and emergency departments, however, remain normal for this time of year, Karman said.

Columbian Health Reporter