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Flu cases strike area

Disease claims several lives so far this season in Washington state

— The flu is starting to send Okanogan County residents to bed and to the doctor.

“We are seeing flu in some areas of the county now, which is typical for this time of year, especially with holiday travel to all parts of the country,” Okanogan County Health District Community Health Director Lauri Jones said.

Influenza A, H1N1, is the strain affecting most people and, “fortunately, this is covered in the vaccine,” she said.

On both sides of the Cascades, the percentage of emergency room visits for influenza-like illness is almost the same as last year, which was considered to be a moderately severe flu season, Jones said.

According to the Spokane Regional Health District, there have been five lab-confirmed influenza deaths in Washington during the 2013-14 season.

Some people are being hit by norovirus, which is characterized by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It’s commonly known as stomach flu, but isn’t the same as influenza.

“Many people confuse ‘stomach flu’ with influenza. They are not the same,” Jones said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people age 6 months and older get an annual influenza vaccination.

“Anyone who has not yet been vaccinated this season should get an influenza vaccine now,” Jones said.

There’s a good match between the circulating strains of flu and those in the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control said. All H1N1 and H3N2 viruses are components of the 2014-14 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine.

Nationwide, 1,583 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations were reported from Oct. 1, 2013, to Dec. 28, 2013, for a rate of 5.8 per 100,000 population.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends:

• Covering the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

• Staying home when sick.

• Washing hands with soap and water to reduce the number of microbes.

• Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to reduce microbes.

• Avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth.

• Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces or objects.

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