Flu free - for now

North Idaho showing few signs of sickness hitting majority of the nation

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Lyndsey Osborn, a medical assistant at Dirne Community Health Clinic, administers a flu vaccination Monday to her coworker Renee Leach.

COEUR d'ALENE - While the rest of the country is battling states of emergencies and mass sick days from the pervasive flu virus this season, North Idaho still appears to be largely immune.

For now, anyway.

The limited stats available indicate that the flu virus still hasn't permeated Kootenai County like it has regions across the U.S., according to Panhandle Health District this week.

It's hard to pinpoint just why North Idaho is still sporting a generally healthy population, said spokeswoman Cynthia Taggart, while the state of New York and the city of Boston have declared states of emergencies.

"As for why, we can't tell you," Taggart said. "If we knew, we'd patent it."

Although lab tests for flu are on the rise, Taggart said, Coeur d'Alene schools are reporting normal absentee rates between 5 to 8 percent.

The attendance numbers are the most reliable tracker of flu prevalence, Taggart said. Flu cases are not reportable, and only some labs check in with PHD about positive tests for the virus.

"We really don't have any idea (how many people in the area have the flu)," Taggart said. "We certainly know we haven't been hit hard."

Only about four have been hospitalized for flu so far at Kootenai Medical Center, estimated Audra Dawson, infection prevention supervisor.

Spokane County, meanwhile, has reported more than 30 hospitalizations from the flu virus this season, compared to only four this same period last year.

It's possible that North Idaho has an advantage, said Alan Brockway, spokesman for Dirne Community Health Center.

Our region is probably better situated to prepare for a sweeping virus, Brockway theorized.

"For us here in North Idaho, we're pretty well insulated," he said, noting that Washington is exposed to infections from the coast. "We're not going to get a whole lot coming up from southern Idaho, which will get it from Utah or perhaps farther south."

This at least gives residents more time to brace for a pandemic, he said.

"It does afford us a little extra time to prepare for these situations," Brockway said, adding that Dirne has only seen a slight uptick in flu symptoms so far this season.

The flu often kicks off in the southeast and works its way up, Dawson said.

So North Idaho could be inundated with the flu soon, she predicted.

"We'll probably be peaking right now, or next month," she said.

Preparation is obvious, Taggart said: Get a flu shot and wash hands frequently. It takes two weeks for immunities to grow after receiving a flu shot, she added.

"So if they're going to get it, they need to go get it now," Taggart said.

PHD provides flu shots to children, she said, adding that about 300 children have received flu shots so far at the agency.

Dirne only has 170 vaccines left, Brockway said, which are available for $20 with no appointment required.

Those who prefer to let their bodies fend off the virus solo, sans flu shot, should keep up healthy habits like consuming fruits and vegetables, getting exercise and a full night's sleep, according to WebMD.

People should also avoid rubbing their eyes, nose and mouth, Dawson said. That's how the virus can enter the body, she said, if their hands have brushed contaminated surfaces.

Dawson acknowledged that individuals can still build up their immune systems by exposing themselves to a multitude of germs.

"But it's still better to get vaccinated," she said. "If you can just get vaccinated, you get your immunity right away, without going through symptoms."

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