PACIFIC COUNTY — The Long Beach Peninsula is one of the few places in the country that hasn’t been hit hard by this year’s nasty flu virus, but that’s not likely to last.
Experts are calling this one of the country’s worst flu seasons in years. After a brief lull in mid-January, flu activity picked up again last week, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. In U.S cities, there are so many sick people that hospitals have had to set up temporary flu wards, and CDC officials say the country is approaching pandemic status. As of Jan. 27, flu was widespread in every state but Hawaii and Oregon.
Nasty in the north
Although Washington is currently seeing lower numbers of cases than many other parts of the country, it’s still taking a toll on schools. In Pacific County, it seems to be working its way south.
South Bend School Nurse Leah Heintz said flu and other seasonal illnesses showed up at Chauncey Davis Elementary about three weeks ago. Since then, the staff has sent around 30 students home every day. One day, they sent 45 sick kids home — about 15 percent of the student body.
“It’s been the most students out that I’ve seen in years,” Heintz said.
Raymond kids are under the weather too.
“Our elementary school has a higher percentage of kids gone with flu, though we’ve not hit the 10 percent ‘time to report’ level,” Raymond School District Superintendent Steve Holland said on Feb. 5. “Grades seven to 12 seem to be having very little impact from the flu. There are only 3 kids out today who are ill.”
Safer in the south
“It’s hit some other communities, but it hasn’t hit us,” Ocean Park Elementary Principal Cara Powell said on Feb. 6. “We’ve had just a couple of kiddos who’ve had the flu, but that’s it.” At Naselle School, an office employee said there have been a few cases of a stomach bug recently, but no one has thus far been diagnosed with flu.
“I can tell you that we haven’t seen an influx in absences yet,” Hilltop Principal Todd Carper said. Recently, the fifth through eighth-grade campus has had an average of about 14 kids out each day. That’s typical for this time of year, Carper said.
Keeping kids safe
Other parts of the Northwest have not been so lucky. There were so many cases of flu in Knappa that Astoria School District officials temporarily shut down the elementary school in late January to quell an outbreak that had sickened nearly half of the school students and staff.
This year’s dominant strain of flu virus, H3N2, tends to be especially hard on young children, according to CDC researchers. Nationwide, 53 children have died from flu or flu-related pneumonia this year, including one Washington child.
Heintz, the school nurse, said that even though this year’s vaccine isn’t very effective at preventing flu, it’s still effective at reducing the severity of symptoms and the length of illness. She urged people who haven’t gotten vaccinated to contact the County Health and Human Service Department, where she works as a nurse, for information about free and low-cost vaccination.
“We have given a lot of flu shots,” Heintz said. “We would like to give more.”
More flu to come
Flu activity actually dropped in Washington in the week ending Jan. 27, the most recent week for which data is available. But even with the drop and the comparatively low levels of illness here, there are still plenty of sick people. To date, 132 people have died, according to the Washington Department of Health. That’s the second-highest number of fatalities in eight years. At this point in 2017, 177 people had died. By the end of the flu season, there were 278 deaths.
State health data shows that there is often a mid-season dip in the number of illness, followed by another spike, so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for the number of flu-stricken Washingtonians to start climbing again. According to the most recent CDC report, “Flu activity is likely to remain elevated for several more weeks.”
Health officials say most people can be treated at home, but medically fragile people, children and seniors who seem severely ill or experience unusual symptoms should seek medical treatment. Antiviral medications can be helpful, but they work best when people seek early treatment, doctors say.