Local flu season may be past its peak

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The worst of an already deadly flu season may be over, according to local health professionals.

As of Jan. 4, 13 Idahoans had died from influenza, and eight of those deaths occurred in the state’s five northernmost counties. That marks the highest statewide total since 2010.

However, officials at Kootenai Health and the Panhandle Health District believe the number of cases is beginning to dwindle.

“We’ve had some busy moments, but now we’re coming back down on that curve,” said Amy Ward, infection prevention manager at Kootenai Health.

Kim Young and Samantha Tuskan, interim public information officers at the Panhandle Health District, echoed those sentiments.

“I think we’re through the worst part and starting to see a decline,” Tuskan said.

Ward said confirmed cases of the flu virus vat Kootenai Health peaked during the week from Dec. 31 to Jan. 6, when the hospital ran 217 tests, of which 32 percent were positive.

In the following week — Jan. 7 to Jan. 13 — Kootenai Health ran 161 tests and yielded 28 percent positive results. During that same week, the Panhandle Health District conducted a total of 237 tests, with 26 percent coming back as positive.

Ward said all flu seasons are different and unpredictable, but they do have one thing in common: severity.

Even though the number of fatalities has risen this year, Ward doesn’t think this flu season has been out of the ordinary.

“So far it’s just another flu season — chalk one down for the record books,” Ward said.

Flu season officially began on Nov. 12, but can range from anywhere between October to April in a given year.

Ward recommended the flu vaccination as the best protection against the virus, adding that nearly 100 percent of Kootenai Health staff has received the vaccine this season.

The Panhandle Health District recommends all people older than 6 months of age get immunized.

While vaccinations aren’t 100 percent effective in prevention, they can reduce the chances of exposure by 40 to 60 percent. Ward also emphasized that the vaccine will reduce the severity of the flu.

As for other ways of prevention, Kootenai Health and the Panhandle Health District noted the importance of thorough hand washing and respiratory etiquette — covering your coughs and sneezes.

If you do catch the virus, health experts highly suggest staying home from work or school to avoid spreading germs to others.

Typical symptoms include fever, headaches, muscle aches, sore throat, persistent cough, and extreme fatigue. If you are experiencing many or all of these, health officials recommend that you see a physician as soon as possible.

Ward urged people to avoid visiting the emergency room unless they are experiencing extreme symptoms, such as difficulty breathing.

According to a Centers for Disease Control report published Friday, Idaho is one of nine states experiencing moderate influenza-like illness activity. High influenza-like activity was seen last week in 32 states and Puerto Rico, while the remaining nine states — including Montana and Washington — experienced either low or minimal activity.

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