Vaccine gone, flu cases down

While the Island County Health Department has run out of flu vaccine for adults, and has distributed all children’s doses to pediatricians, Roger Case, Health Department officer, said incidences of the flu seem to be decreasing on the island.

The only way they have to measure that is by school absentee rates.

Oak Harbor School Nurse Az Franciose said the number of absences actually peaked the week of Thanksgiving. Last week the high school reported about a 6 percent absentee rate, well below the 10 percent flu “epidemic” level.

In the South Whidbey School District, school nurse Marsha Statz said the attendance rate this week is “markedly better.” South Whidbey High School was hit hard by illnesses in mid-November with up to 25 percent of the student body out sick at one point.

Now absentee rates overall are at a more normal 5 to 8 percent.

Stats didn’t think people getting flu shots has made that much difference in the illness rate, except from a psychological standpoint.

“Even though it’s not the same kind of flu (as the vaccine), people who got their shots say they haven’t gotten the flu.”

Trish Rose, community relations director for Whidbey General Hospital, said the hospital doesn’t have an actual count, but hospital staff have seen some cases of people being admitted to the hospital with flulike symptoms.

Franciose cautioned that numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“It’s hard to isolate the cause of absences,” she said. Students don’t always report why they are absent, and without specific symptoms it can’t be called the flu with any certainty.

“Fever is the hallmark of the flu,” she said, so any absence for that reason could be marked down as the flu.

Other symptoms include severe cough, chills and body aches. Case said nausea and diarrhea are not symptoms of the flu, but there is a “stomach virus” going around as well.

Shots or not, health officials say people should continue to take precautions and practice “respiratory etiquette” by covering the mouth and nose when sneezing, coughing or blowing one’s nose, putting used tissues in the trash, and washing hands well and often. Also don’t share things like food, utensils, beverages, cigarettes, towels, toys, lipstick, or anything else that might be contaminated with respiratory germs.

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