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Flu hits island schools

Terry Thomas, pharmacist at the Korner Pharmacy in Clinton immunizes Amanda Owen with influenza vaccine. Vaccinations are available at pharmacies, Island County Health Department and physicians’ offices. This year’s vaccine will protect patients from three strains of flu. - Gayle Saran
Terry Thomas, pharmacist at the Korner Pharmacy in Clinton immunizes Amanda Owen with influenza vaccine. Vaccinations are available at pharmacies, Island County Health Department and physicians’ offices. This year’s vaccine will protect patients from three strains of flu.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

South Whidbey residents know when the flu season hits — attendance at local schools is down, co-workers complain to one another about sore throats and body aches, and almost everyone is at the grocery story buying Tylenol and chicken soup.

This week, more than 200 South Whidbey students were out of school due to illness, illness that according to the schools is based in the flu. Several parents reported taking their children to Whidbey General Hospital this week with fevers running as high as 103 degrees.

That’s not hard to believe. According to the Island County Health Department influenza season is here, and it has arrived early.

“Flu season is traditionally in full swing by mid- December to early January. It is early this year,” said Shannon McDonnell, the Island County Health Department’s immunization specialist.

That seems evident by the number of students absent from South Whidbey schools. South Whidbey High School Mike Johnson said three times as many students were absent on Monday morning as usual.

“Our attendance rate runs about 94 percent,” he said. “We had 117 student out on Monday about 84 percent attendance.”

Some staff members are also absent due to illness.

At the South Whidbey Intermediate School, staff reported 43 students absent on Monday, but a high of 53 students out one day last week.

The school’s principal, Doug Hale, said, “we typically have between 13 and 20 students absent in one day.”

With an increase statewide in the number of cases of the flu, 31 schools reported absentee rate greater than 10 percent due to flu like symptoms, according to the health department’s McDonnell. To stop the growing epidemic, she urges people to get flu shots.

“It’s not too late,” she said.

Most everyone can benefit from the vaccine, McDonnell said, but the Centers for Disease Control and Island County health specialists recommend the flu shot most highly for people 65 and older, children 6 months to 23 months, anyone with a chronic health condition, health workers, anyone who spends time near a child 2 or younger, and women more than three months pregnant.

According to the CDC, the flu shot can cause mild flu symptoms itself such as soreness in the arm, a low-grade fever and body aches.

McDonnell said the injected vaccine is made from dead virus, which is incapable of launching an infection into the body.

A new FluMist nasal spray vaccine is more expensive and may not be covered by health insurance. For that reason, McDonnell said, it is not being offered by the health department through its flu vaccination clinics.

Influenza is a contagious disease that is caused by the influenza virus attacking the respiratory tract nose, throat, and lungs.

“The flu is different from a cold or the stomach flu, with symptoms of diarrhea or vomiting. Influenza symptoms include fever, 100 degrees or more, headache, extreme tiredness cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and body aches,” McDonnell said.

Most people who get the flu will recover in one to two weeks.

The CDC reports of people in the United 10 percent to 20 percent residents — will get the each year. An average of about 36,000 people per year in the United States die from influenza, and 114,000 per year have to be admitted to the hospital as a result of influenza.

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