Flu may beat Santa to area this winter

Staff writerDecember 5, 2012 

Flu season might come early to the South Sound this year.

In the past two weeks, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has seen increased positive tests for influenza at the biggest of the three laboratories it monitors, public health nurse Denise Stinson said Tuesday.

That’s not the norm for the Pacific Northwest, where flu season typically hits at the end of December and early January, she said.

“Usually we have a long time to get prepared,” Stinson said. “We are seeing it in a higher degree than we usually do this time of year.”

Pierce County isn’t alone; Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas have seen higher-than-usual reports of flu this year. Nationally, flu-related hospitalizations are rising earlier than usual, and two children have died.

The last time a conventional flu season started this early was the winter of 2003-04, which proved to be one of the most lethal seasons in the past 35 years, with more than 48,000 deaths. The dominant type of flu back then was the same one seen this year.

“It tends to be a little bit rougher on the senior population,” Stinson said about the strain.

One key difference between then and now: In 2003-04, the vaccine was poorly matched to the predominant flu strain. Also, there’s more vaccine now, and vaccination rates have risen for the general public and for key groups such as pregnant women and health care workers.

“There are a ton of flu vaccines out there,” Stinson said.

There are several alternatives to the traditional shot, she said:

 • A nasal spray available to healthy people with no chronic problems, such as diabetes or asthma.

 • An intradermal vaccine that goes into the skin rather than the muscle, which requires a smaller needle and prevents soreness.

 • A high-dose vaccine for those 65 and older. It’s not specifically recommended by the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, but might be beneficial. Studies are still being done.

Stinson dismissed the idea that the vaccines can give you the illness.

“It cannot give you the flu,” she said. “It’s impossible.”

Side effects can include slight soreness in the arm, and for a handful of people, achiness and a slight fever for a day or two, she said.

Flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months or older.

On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the CDC.

Symptoms can include fever, cough, runny nose, head and body aches, and fatigue. Some people also suffer vomiting and diarrhea, and some develop pneumonia or other severe complications.

Stinson’s message: “If you haven’t gotten your vaccine, get it.”

WHERE TO FIND FLU SHOTS

 • Your primary care provider.

 • Findaflushot.com.

 • Children’s Mobile Clinic (free or low-cost sites listed at www.tpchd.org/resources/immunizations/).

 • Bartells Drugs.

 • Walmart.

 • Walgreens.

 • Fred Meyer.

 • Rite Aid.

 • Albertsons.

 • Target Pharmacy.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268 alexis.krell@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com The Associated Press contributed to this report. Source: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department

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