A bout of sickness has increased student absences at Wood River High and Hailey Elementary schools, offering a glimpse of the greater valley's situation.
The elementary school experienced three times the usual absences last week, according to Secretary Jane Dyndiuk. She said students aren't out just one day but up to a whole week with fevers and aches.
"When they come back, the chest cough doesn't go away. It's just terrible," she said, adding that she soon after receives a call from some parents saying they're now too sick to take their children to school.
"It's like a germ factory over here," she said.
Knowing the exact cause of the illnesses is uncertain because they're non-reportable illnesses, meaning the government doesn't require physicians to order a lab test or report these cases. Plus, more often than not, people don't get tested or even go to the doctor to be treated, according to Jo Dee Alverson, director of infection prevention at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center.
"People will just assume they have the flu," she said, but added that it could be another virus.
For those reasons, it's almost impossible to rate the prevalence of flu and other viruses in the community, according to Mary Jensen, epidemiologist for the South Central Public Health District. An epidemiologist studies patterns of health and illness at the population level. The statistics aren't available to generate trends. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has to rely on anecdotal evidence from physicians and microcosm communities, like schools, to form the bigger picture.
Even though St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center hasn't reported an influx of sickness, Jensen said the district is "definitely experiencing a drastic increase in those suffering from flu-like symptoms."
"It's late in coming but it's here now," she said.
The flu definitely isn't the only thing going around, according to Kathy Swink, doctor of pharmaceutical medicine.
"There are a lot of viruses going around right now," she said. "The 'Ketchum crud.' That's the name in the medical community for it."
Swink works in the Sav-On pharmacy within Albertsons in Haley and said no medication exists to cure these viruses, only to subdue the symptoms. Antibiotics don't apply—just do what your mother always told you: Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Health District has flu vaccine—lots of it
Last winter, the H1N1 outbreak was identified after flu-vaccine production started, forcing suppliers to struggle in catching up to demand.
"People were throwing conniptions," said Lisa Klamm, immunization director for the South Central Public Health District, which has an office in Bellevue.
This winter, on the other hand, the country was ahead of the game. H1N1 was folded into the regular seasonal flu vaccine. A record 160 million doses were ordered nationwide in preparation for H1N1's return, arriving on time. Klamm, who's been in public health for 25 years, said the district ordered and received its usual 6,000 adult doses, which are usually used up by early January. But it's only gone through half.
"I've got thousands of doses left in my fridge, thousands. So much," she said. "It's so sad."
If they're not used, the district must simply throw the vaccine vials in the garbage.
How have people gone from scrambling for vaccinations last winter to just ignoring it this winter?
Klamm points to three reasons. Last winter, the flu hit in the unusually early months of September and October, causing people to take notice and seek out a flu shot.
"It was not only a mild flu season until a couple weeks ago, it has been a mild winter," Klamm said. "People only get their shots when the weather's bad."
Also, H1N1 stepped onto the stage last winter, causing a fright that the media grabbed a hold of and made front-page news. Lastly, she said, the district received its vaccines weeks after companies like Walgreens.
That was true for Albertsons Sav-On pharmacy, which started vaccinating in September instead of October, Swink said. She said Sav-On has sold 2,000 flu vaccines, almost doubling its sales last year. It only has 100 vaccines left.
Klamm advocated that those who haven't caught the flu yet be vaccinated.
"It's never too late," she said, adding that protection lasts a whole year, meaning it will be good into next winter.
Klamm said the district would cut back its vaccine order by "a lot" next winter as a result of this winter's excess supply.
"We lost a lot of money this year we can't afford to lose," she said. "I've never seen anything like this."
Call the Health District at 788-4335 to make a vaccination appointment. It's located at 117 E. Ash St. in Bellevue.
Trevon Milliard: email@example.com