UPDATE (Fri. 10:04 a.m.): At the time of writing, the number of flu deaths in Washington was seven. Since then the number has risen to eight.
There’s no crisis here, but the flu has come to town.
“We do have influenza in Kitsap County,” said Kerry Dobbelaere, clinical services program manager for the Kitsap Public Health District. “We do have reported cases widespread throughout the county.”
But unlike many places in the country including the East Coast, incidents of flu in Kitsap County are not near the epidemic stage. Dobbelaere said the county does not record confirmed cases of the flu, so she isn’t able to say how many cases there are in the county.
“Flu is not one of our reportable illnesses,” she said. “We only record deaths from the flu. And so far we haven’t had any.”
There have, however, been seven lab-confirmed flu deaths in Washington state — one was a 12-year-old boy.
To date, flu has not been reported much in area schools.
Bremerton School District Communications Director Patty Glaser said the district has not had a large number of students out because of the flu.
“Our numbers with staff and student illnesses are normal right now,” Glaser said.
Central Kitsap School District reported it had a number of people out sick, but nothing abnormal for this time of year.
“During flu season we do see a few more people out than normal,” said David Beil, the district’s community relations director. “But when we look at previous years we don’t see any spikes that are unusual for the flu season.”
According to Dobbelaere, the flu has come to the county earlier than in past years.
“Generally, we don’t see many cases until late January and into February,” she said. “But it’s here and it has arrived earlier this year.”
That has been confirmed by local pediatrician Dr. Greg Hoisington, medical director for The Doctors Clinic, who practices in Silverdale.
“We have seen a few cases,” he said. “Nothing like what they are experiencing in other parts of the country. It’s really not any worse than any other year. It’s just starting earlier.”
The best step to keeping the flu at bay is to get a flu shot, Dr. Hoisington said.
“We’ve always recommended getting flu shots for most all patients. And this year they got it pretty much right, as to the strain of flu we are seeing,” he said of the vaccine. “It’s really your best protection against getting the flu.”
He added that by getting the shot, individuals also protect themselves from becoming seriously ill, should they get the flu.
“If you have gotten the flu shot and you do get the flu, it will lessen the severity of the illness,” he said.
Most physician’s offices have the flu shots, and he suggested that people needing a shot see their family doctor. But he said flu shots are readily available at local pharmacies. His office has a supply for children and teens ages six months to 18 years.
At the Public Health District, the flu shot clinics took place in November and December. Flu shots are still available by appointment for children and teens, Dobbelaere said. Adults need to see their doctor or go to a local pharmacy.
“It’s really not too late to get a flu shot,” she said. ‘If you haven’t gotten one, you really should.”
While some pharmacies in Silverdale and Bremerton reported being out of the vaccine earlier in the week, most said they were expecting to get more in by Saturday. Harrison Medical Center also reported that they have no flu shots available.
“We were really busy this (past) weekend,” said Mahendra Reddy, pharmacist at a Silverdale Rite Aid. “We ran out (of vaccine). But we will get more in.”
Reddy said he thinks news of flu deaths in other parts of the country may be the reason why people are getting their shots now.
“There’s been a lot of media coverage,” he said. “There is a heightened awareness right now and that has prompted people to get the shot. We’ve had people come in to get a shot and tell us that they’ve never gotten a flu shot before, but they don’t want to take any chances this year. They just don’t want to risk it.”
Those who have come in range in age from children to the elderly. Shots run about $30.
According to the Public Health District, the symptoms of the flu include a fever of more than 100 degrees, cough, sore throat, and body aches. The flu comes on quickly, Dobbelaere said, unlike a cold, where one day a person has a sore throat and the following day a stuffy nose, followed by a cough later on.
“With the flu, you just get hit all at once,” she said.
Some of the measures that can be taken to ward off the flu are washing hands thoroughly and often, covering coughs, and staying home if feeling sick.
“Don’t chance giving it to others,” she said. “And when you are sick, stay home for 24 hours after your fever is gone.”