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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Flu season not as bad as was feared

Predictions of a deadly flu season have proved a gross exaggeration for North Idaho and Spokane so far, health providers agreed on Monday.

The state lab in Boise has confirmed only two cases of influenza in Kootenai County since last fall, said Susan Cuff, Panhandle Health District spokeswoman.

“We’ve had scattered reports of doctors’ diagnoses of flu made in their offices,” Cuff said. “But it’s still what we would classify as a mild season.”

The Spokane Regional Health District was reluctant to break down Spokane County’s flu season into a number. Influenza isn’t a reportable illness in Washington, so even an estimate is hard to reach, said Julie Graham, the health district’s spokeswoman.

“It’s been a light year,” she said. “We know that because we track school absentee rates.”

Spokane’s health district gave out 5,200 flu shots since last fall and has none left. Graham said private providers throughout the city gave out thousands more that they ordered directly from vaccine vendors.

“I know one woman who gave out 15,000 doses she ordered,” Graham said. “They went to nursing homes and high-risk patients. They gave them at flu clinics and doctors’ offices.”

The Panhandle Health District distributed nearly 10,000 doses of flu vaccine throughout North Idaho and has about 20 doses left. North Idaho Immediate Care had 1,000 doses of the vaccine and has 250 left, said Sue Guice, the center’s assistant director of nurses.

Coeur d’Alene’s Dirne Community Health Clinic, which serves people with no health insurance, gave out 970 shots and has about 30 left, said Leanne Rousseau, clinic medical director.

An early shortage of the vaccine nationwide led to restrictions on who could have it. Chiron, a vaccine-maker that usually supplies the United States with 48 million doses, had its license suspended in October for contamination problems.

The suspension came at the start of what some health officials were forecasting as a disastrous flu season.

The shots available went to people with high health risks – seniors and babies, people with chronic illnesses, pregnant women.

The shortage gave the vaccine precious commodity status and everyone seemed to want it. But they didn’t want it in its alternative form – a mist into the nose.

Flu mist is available for everyone, but it’s a live-virus vaccine with a potential side effect of mild flu-like symptoms.

People with health risks are advised not to take it. The mist provides the same protection as a shot.

“I gave it to my whole family,” Rousseau said. “Nobody got sick.”

More flu vaccine became available in January, but the flu scare apparently had passed by then.

“Demand dropped off after the first of the year,” Cuff said. “People were thinking about spring, the weather was good and there was no huge outbreak of the flu, so it wasn’t at the top of people’s minds.”

Mid-February is typically when flu season peaks, Cuff said. If the flu is at its worst now, the season was one of the easiest in recent history. “It’s been a roller-coaster year,” Cuff said.

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