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2012-2013 flu season

The flu season has been accompanied by outbreaks of the Norovirus, making the season particularly hard for some.

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‘One of our most severe’ flu seasons as another death reported

SEATTLE — At least six people are dead in Washington state from the flu, the latest being a Bothell woman in her 30s who died over the weekend, the state Department of Health said Tuesday.

Doctors are worried because it’s still early in the season. They say this could be the worst flu season, since the swine flu epidemic in 2009. Swine flu, or H1N1, is the dominant strain this season.

flu-shots-sign“My wife insisted that I do it,” said Joe Woodward, after he got a flu shot at a drug store in Everett. Most of the people coming in to the pharmacy were there for flu shots.

“Better safe than sorry,” said Woodward.

Nancy Furness, director of Communicable Diseases at Snohomish Public Health, said there are several people in hospitals around Snohomish County being treated for the flu.

“This is probably one of our most severe years,” said Furness.

Young people are not usually considered at a high risk during flu season, but H1N1 is more likely to hit young adults. That’s what struck Will Gardner in 2012. The 34-year-old youth football coach thought he was just battling a cold, but the symptoms got worse, and after a few days he was dead.

“Get your shots,” said his friend, Justin Knowles, at the time. “It’s just better to be safe than sorry and it’s not worth the risk.”

That’s the advice doctors are giving now as well. This year’s vaccine includes protection against H1N1, though it’s not a guarantee you won’t get the flu.  Doctors say if you get the vaccine and still get the flu, it probably won’t be as bad. And if you show symptoms, the earlier you get treated, the less severe the virus is likely to be when you battle through it.


fluSEATTLE — Public Health-Seattle & King County is offering free flu vaccinations on Saturday to people without health insurance or who are unable to pay.

Health experts recommend flu vaccine for all people 6 months and older, especially for pregnant women and people who have long-term health problems, like diabetes, asthma, and heart or lung problems. Anyone who lives with or cares for an infant younger than 6 months should also get vaccinated to protect the infant from getting flu.

The free flu vaccination clinics will be held at Public Health Centers at the following locations on Saturday, Nov. 2, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (walk-in; no appointment necessary):

The vaccinations will be given to people who do not have insurance or cannot afford to pay for vaccination otherwise. No other vaccinations will be offered at the time of the clinics. Flu shots and a limited number of nasal spray, preservative-free, gelatin-free, and latex-free vaccines will be available.

Flu vaccine (shots and nasal spray) is also available at many health care provider offices and pharmacies for those who have insurance or are able to pay for vaccination. Visit to help find locations.

GIG HARBOR — Diane Jackson is back at work at camp Seymour Sunday.

She was one of the 14 staff members infected with the virus.

“For me it lasted about 12 hours of really feeling nauseous and having some diarrhea, vomited a couple of times and then the next day I was feeling really tired and dehydrated,” Camp Seymour counselor Diane Jackson said.

The outbreak appears to have started July 31st.

“Anytime we have any campers sick it’s difficult for us,” Camp Seymour Executive Director Liz Ortenburger said.

Having a few campers sick is one thing, Ortenburger, says, having a Norovirus outbreak is quite another and it’s never happened here before.

“When we had this large a number it was definitely a new situation for us. Fortunately we work with a local doctor and as I said the Health Department,” Ortenburger said.

The Pierce County Health Department took a look around the camp and decided it needed to be shut down and cleanup up before campers could return.

Two companies were brought in to sanitize the camp, while everyone else focused on getting well.

CampSeymour“Making sure staff stayed off of camp the entire time when they were healing and that campers that went home didn’t come back for another session when they were still contagious was important,” Ortenburger said.

Symptoms include stomach pain and vomiting, diarrhea, chills, body aches and fatigue.

With the camp now sanitized and everyone healthy again the camp reopened and more than 160 campers check in.

New protocols are in place to make sure there is no new Norovirus outbreak at amp Seymour.

“During check-in we added a few extra questions asking kids if they had had a stomach bug or if they were feeling okay when they checked in, just to make sure everyone coming to camp is healthy and ready to go,” Ortenburger said.

For those kids who missed camp, the YMCA plans to reimburse their parents or the kids can attend camp free of charge next week.


Creating a flu survival kit

The flu continues to be a problem all across the country and in Western Washington.

A lot of people are creating their own flu survival kits and posting pictures of them on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, so anchor Marni Hughes sat down with Certified Nutritionist Deborah Enos to ask her about how we can best go about creating one. Enos also made a few recommendations for items to keep handy during flu season.

fluOLYMPIA — A 23-year-old woman in Thurston County recently died from complications related to the flu, county health officials said Wednesday.

“Healthy young woman, no risk factors, gets sick for a couple of days. She gets better, then all of a sudden gets worse again. Next thing you know she is gone,” said Thurston County health officer Dr. Diana Yu.

“This young woman’s death is a sad reminder that the flu must be taken seriously,” said Yu. “We’re encouraging unvaccinated people of all ages to talk to their doctor about getting a flu vaccine. It’s not too late to get vaccinated.”

Yu said the flu shot is imperative, especially for the young and healthy.

“Now we know the vaccine doesn’t work as well in the elderly, (but) we still give it to them. But it works best in healthy individuals,” said Yu.

Seasonal influenza is a serious illness that each year kills about 36,000 Americans and sends more than 200,000 to the hospital. So far this season, 28 flu-related deaths have occurred in Washington, the Thurston County health officials said.

Common complications from seasonal flu include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, and worsening of chronic medical conditions like congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.

Seniors, pregnant women, children younger than 5, people with chronic medical conditions like asthma or heart disease, and people who work in health care, senior care, and child care are all strongly encouraged to get a flu vaccine.

Meanwhile, there is also concerns about a norovirus.

Dr. Dhirendra Kumar, with Doctors Express, said if you contract the norovirus, it can be more deadly than the flu.

“It is pretty dangerous if you don’t get any attention,” said Kumar.

It’s a stomach infection that is contagious but, unlike the flu, there is no vaccine or even effective medication.

At Century ballroom, the nororvirus is being blamed for Susan Balshor’s death.  She was a waltz instructor who died about two weeks ago.

“Disbelief and shock. I am still reaching the acceptance it’s unreal,” said co-worker Gavin MacDougall.

The dance company says they are still waiting for an autopsy, but they believe Balshor’s symptoms point to the norovirus. She was sick on a Monday and dead on a Wednesday.

“She was very healthy; we were told she had never been sick I am told in over a decade, so it was a surprise,” said MacDougall.

Kumar said the one key prevention for both the norovirus or the flu is to live a healthy lifestyle.

“Daily exercise at least three to four times a week, eat good, eat a lot of vegetables,” said Kumar.

Doctors say wash hands, cover coughs and stay home if sick.

The state does not track the norovirus like they do the  flu but there are reports of the virus spiking across the country.

Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. Many people are infected with norovirus after eating food prepared by someone who does not wash their hands.

FluSNOHOMISH COUNTY — On Monday, the Snohomish County Health Department confirmed the flu killed three people around Everett, bringing the number of flu deaths in Washington state up to six.

Snohomish County Officials are still worrying the worst is yet to come.

Health officials saw their first reported flu cases around November in Washington state. By late December, three women had died from complications from the flu. As of Friday, Snohomish County Health officials said of 52 people had been hospitalized in the county because of the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has tracked at least 2,200 hospitalizations  and 18 deaths among children linked to the flu nationwide this season. The CDC is predicting that about 49,000 people could get sick with the flu before the season is out.

Of the six deaths statewide, one was a child under 12 years old. The rest were primarily elderly patients. One woman was in her 40s.

In comparison, four people were hospitalized for the flu by the same time last year, officials said.

As the worst of the flu season is yet to come, some may be lucky, never having to suffer the flu. But the unwelcome virus has already affected thousands around the Puget Sound. One Everett man described his symptoms.

“Sweats, body aches, I can’t swallow and the back of my throat is swollen up,” he said.

The Snohomish County Health department said the season is getting worse with more and more flu cases popping up everyday. Officials worry it could turn out to be the worst flu year since 2009.

“We are really concerned that this is a much more severe season,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum with the Snohomish County Health Department.

Snohomish County had two flu deaths last year.

“I’m expecting to see unfortunately more deaths and certainly more hospitalizations,” Goldbaum said. “If you are vaccinated and you get sick you will have much milder symptoms and you are going to recover much quicker.”

Everett resident Gabrielle Ruby got a flu shot at Everett’s walk-in clinic two weeks ago because she hoped to prevent the flu altogether. The shot takes close to two weeks to work, and Ruby is hoping the vaccine kicks in before she picks up the virus.

It’s safe to for anyone older than 6 months old to get vaccinated, officials said, unless the patient has an egg allergy.

“You can’t really do anything when you have the flu it kind of puts your life on hold,” Ruby said.

Doctors said it was important for those who already felt sick not to spread the virus.

“Please wash your hands, cover your coughs, stay home if you are sick,” Goldbaum said.

FluSEATTLE — Experts are already calling winter 2012-13 one of the worst influenza seasons in a decade. And the peak is nowhere in sight.

Dr. Dhirendra Kumar, from Doctors Express Urgent Care in Seattle, has treated a number of patients with the flu this year. He said the flu has been blamed for three deaths in Washington state and close to 20 children’s deaths across the country.

“We are not at the peak yet,” Kumar said. “I am anticipating there will be a lot of cases and we should prepare right now.”

Kumar worries this could be an especially bad year for the flu. The concern is echoed by officials at the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Dr. Thomas Frieden of  the CDC said the flu season is starting earlier than in years past.

“It seems to be starting earlier than most flu seasons and the strain of flu that’s spreading tends to be associated with earlier and more severe flu years,” Frieden said.

Kumar recommended that anyone over the age of six months receive a vaccine for the flu. But a vaccine doesn’t mean complete protection, Kumar said.

“Somehow, interestingly, we have seen about six or seven patients that had the vaccine but they got the flu,” Kumar said.

The vaccine prevents some flu strains but not all of them, officials said. No matter the strain, the vaccine still fights the virus.

“One patient without the flu vaccine may get better in a week, two or sometimes more than two weeks,” Kumar said. “But if you have flu vaccine, perhaps you will get better a little bit early.”

Those with the flu, or flu-like symptoms, are urged to help stop the spread of the virus.

“Be careful,” Kumar said. “If you know you have the flu, try to avoid the spread. Don’t go to places, community gathering, church or school. They should be at home and try not to infect other people.”

Snohomish Health District reported that three people had died in late December from flu complications — a Bothell woman in her 40s, an Everett woman in her 80s and an Edmonds woman in her 80s. Each was reported to also have other underlying medical conditions.