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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of December 3 - 9, 2003


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

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 District Health.

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 differing degrees.

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 absences.

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 flu-related symptoms.

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 children.

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.



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