For the week of February 24, 1999  thru March 2, 1999  

Flu season strikes later than usual

Express Staff Writer

Four flu-related deaths in Ada County earlier this month suggest that flu season could be extended later into the year than usual.

Typically, the flu season peaks around Jan. 1, but this year significant reports of the virus did not occur until late January, according to state health officials.

The deaths of the four elderly residents in Ada County were the first flu-related deaths reported in Idaho this year.

In the Wood River Valley, most cases of the flu are appearing in Hailey, particularly out of Blaine Manor, according to Dr. Jan Rosenquist, of the Wood River Medical Center in Sun Valley.

"We’re probably seeing four or five cases a day in the Sun Valley facility," Rosenquist said.

Although that number is standard, Rosenquist noted that the symptoms have been more severe and lasted longer in flu victims this year.

The winter-time disease is caused by viruses that infect the respiratory tract. It is especially dangerous for the elderly, those with immune problems, and asthma sufferers.

Flu symptoms include fever (usually 100 degrees to 103 degrees), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue.

Although the flu circulating now is mostly respiratory, there were several cases of gastrointestinal flu reported in Sun Valley during December and January, according to Rosenquist.

Most people who get the flu recover fully within one to twi weeks, but some people, like the victims from Ada County, develop life-threatening complications such as pneumonia. In an average season, flu is associated with 20,000 deaths nationwide.

Health officials recommend flu shots for all individuals 65 years or older, residents of nursing homes and chronic-care facilities, anyone with lung or cardiovascular disorders, any individual with a chronic metabolic disorder who was hospitalized within the last year, and children and teen-agers who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy.

"It’s not too late to get a flu shot," state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said. "If you think you have the flu, see a doctor. The disease is treatable."

Influenza viruses continually change over time, and each year the vaccine is updated to include viruses that represent the most current changes.

"The strain that is circulating now is like what is in the vaccine," said Cheryl Becker, district epidemiologist in Twin Falls.

Where did this strain of flu come from?

"You’d win lots of money if you knew the answer to that question," Becker said.


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