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Spokane sees high rates of an unusual flu strain this year

Dec. 6, 2019 Updated Mon., Dec. 9, 2019 at 8:18 a.m.

Isaiah Jackson, a student at Woodridge Elementary School, gets both a DTaP and a flu shot from WSU School of Nursing students Ali Ronnefeldt, left, and Josiah Bryan, right, during a Spokane Regional Health District free immunization clinic on Oct. 15 at Farwell Elementary School. Flu season arrived early in Washington this year. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Isaiah Jackson, a student at Woodridge Elementary School, gets both a DTaP and a flu shot from WSU School of Nursing students Ali Ronnefeldt, left, and Josiah Bryan, right, during a Spokane Regional Health District free immunization clinic on Oct. 15 at Farwell Elementary School. Flu season arrived early in Washington this year. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane came down with the flu early this year.

Nationwide, flu season also started early this year. While it’s not officially flu season in Spokane County, the Spokane Regional Health District has reported an increase of flu cases in the community.

“We’re definitely seeing it earlier,” said Malia Nogle, an epidemiologist at the health district. “We usually don’t see levels increase until the end of December and usually peak with our highest amount of cases in January, but we are seeing cases early.”

Washington is one of 12 states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified as having high influenzalike illness activity so far this flu season. Not all counties have officially declared flu season, which occurs when 10% of those tested for the flu test positive for two weeks in a row.

This week, Spokane County met that threshold for the first time. If it happens again next week, flu season will officially be here.

But this flu season may look different than usual.

Nogle said influenza A is typically seen in the winter time, but this year, Spokane’s trends are following national trends, with influenza B outpacing influenza A. Influenza B is usually not seen until spring.

Flu shots, offered at doctor’s offices or pharmacies usually for little to no cost, can help prevent the flu, and Nogle said this is true even if a person gets sick.

“Get your flu vaccine,” Nogle said. The vaccine, she added, “is the best protection you can get. Even if you do get it and get the flu, the vaccine can offer some protection to prevent more serious illness or complications and even death.”

The CDC recommends that anyone older than 6 months old get a flu shot. Flu symptoms include high fever, serious cough and respiratory issues, sore throat, and aches and pains.

Statewide, the Washington State Department of Health has reported three deaths from the flu, in Franklin, Pierce and Kittitas counties.

It is too early for health officials to determine whether this year’s vaccines are effective. It can take two weeks to develop the antibodies from the vaccine necessary for making it effective, Nogle said.

“Stay home when you’re sick, especially to protect those that have compromised immune systems,” Nogle said.

Nogle encouraged those experiencing flulike symptoms to contact their primary care doctor or urgent care before going to hospital emergency departments.

People of all ages in Spokane County have tested positive for the flu this year.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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