Health officials urge vaccination on heels of bad flu season – Kitsap Sun

BREMERTON — The last flu season was a rough one. 

Thirteen Kitsap residents who contracted influenza died last fall and winter, according to Kitsap Public Health District, while 20 long-term care facilities reported “outbreaks” involving one or more flu cases. Both figures were easily the highest in recent memory

The volume of flu cases in Kitsap wasn’t overwhelming but people suffering from flu symptoms swamped emergency rooms in other parts of the state.

Will the coming season be as bad?

“We do not know,” Kitsap Public Health District Health Officer Dr. Susan Turner said frankly.

Predicting the length and severity flu seasons is next to impossible, as the timing and distribution of flu viruses varies widely from year to year. 

All the more reason to be prepared, health officials say. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend vaccinations for every person 6 months and older as the best method of preventing the flu and reducing the severity of symptoms.

“It’s the only thing we’ve got that stimulates antibodies so our immune system can fight off infection,” Turner said. 

Vaccination is especially important for vulnerable populations, including young children, pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions. People at high risk of developing complications from the flu should also ask their doctor about anti-viral medications if they become sick, Turner said. 

Since the vaccination is far from perfect, people who’ve had the shot still need to use simple prevention techniques, such as washing hands frequently, covering coughs and staying home from work or school when ill. 

“It’s important for them to not feel bulletproof after they’ve gotten the shot,” Turner said. 

It takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, meaning people shouldn’t wait to get their shot, she added.

“Flu seasons” have no set schedule. Last year in Kitsap, positive flu cases began popping up by early November, increased rapidly in December and peaked in January before tapering to minimal levels by March. Cases were reported sporadically through spring.

Influenza A, specifically H3N2, was the predominate virus last season, according to the state Department of Health. H3N2 tends to especially affect older people. 

The Centers for Disease Control reported the vaccine produced for the 2016-17 season was less than 50 percent effective (40 to 60 percent is typical). Most of the people who died in Kitsap with the flu had been vaccinated. 

Turner said early reports indicates the vaccine developed for this season is matching strains identified across the country well so far.

Most insurance policies cover the full cost of flu shots. To locate a provider, go to vaccinefinder.org.

 

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