Flu season arrives early
Southern Idaho hit hard
"We do have a type ‘A.’ We just don’t
know the strain but we’ve heard from physicians that people who got influenza
vaccinations are having less severe symptoms."
— CHERYLE BECKER, South Central
District Health epidemiologist manager
By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer
An unexpectedly early outbreak of
influenza has hit southern Idaho within the past two weeks.
"We always have it, but it seems to be
hitting hard," said Cheryle Becker, epidemiologist manager of South Central
The flu generally strikes one to three
days after exposure to the virus. The onset of the flu can be sudden. People
describe feeling like they've been hit by a truck. Common flu symptoms include
sudden onset of fever and chills, muscle pain, headache, fatigue and weakness.
Some people also have a stuffy nose, sore throat and an unproductive cough.
Various Cassia County schools were closed
for one or two days last week, while Blaine County schools have been affected in
Wood River High School reported 150 to 200
students absent Tuesday, Nov. 25, and Wednesday, Nov. 26. At the same time, Wood
River Middle School reported 169 absences on Tuesday and 250 on Wednesday. Many
parents reported their children sick with flu-like symptoms, though absences on
Wednesday may be partly attributed to vacation plans, school officials said.
On Monday, Dec. 1, the middle school
reported 120 absent, and the high school had at least 95 sickness-related
The elementary schools were less impacted,
with approximately 50 students per school out each day due to sickness.
Many teachers were also out ill last week.
The Carey School reported no problems with
the flu so far.
Two influenza strains present elsewhere in
Idaho were typed earlier this week as Type A Fujian, through the Centers for
Disease Control in Atlanta, Becker said.
"We do have a type ‘A,’" Becker said about
Southern Idaho. "We just don’t know the strain but we’ve heard from physicians
that people who got influenza vaccinations are having less severe symptoms."
The current flu shot covers two type A
strains and one type B. This combination was based on what was circulating last
year. Each year a vaccine is developed based on the most recent viruses. The
Fujian flu circulating in the U.S. was not covered in this year’s vaccination
but the shot "still offers some protection," Becker said.
Colorado has already reported
approximately 2,600 confirmed cases of the flu this season, including more than
1,100 reported in just four days. Four Colorado children have died from
The flu strain that doctors in those areas
are seeing is also the H3N2 Fujian, part of a class of flu viruses that caused
severe outbreaks in the United States in the 1990s.
"At any given time there are colds and
bronchial problems, not just influenza," Becker said. "Those with severe
symptoms should see a physician."
Severe symptoms may include a bad cough,
irritability, crying, hard to awaken, dehydration, difficulty breathing,
blueness around the lips and a high fever that is not helped by acetaminophen or
ibuprofen. Becker says children with the flu, even those as old as 18, should
never take aspirin or medication with salicylates, a pain reliever, due to the
possibility of its causing Reye’s Syndrome, a disease that can be fatal to
Becker recommends asking a pharmacist
about whether an over the counter medication is safe and age appropriate. There
are several new prescription medications that are being touted as anti-flu drugs
but each has risk factors that should be discussed with a physician.
She also recommends that people who have
problems with their immune system, diabetes, lung or heart conditions be
vaccinated yearly. Vaccinations are still available, though they take a couple
of weeks to become effective.
South Central Health in Hailey has flu
vaccination clinics on Tuesdays. Call 788-4335 for times.