Flu season arrives

AP

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Washington State University employee Robert Hubner gets a flu shot at one of the school’s Flu Shot Friday clinics.

The flu season has arrived, with eight flu-related hospitalizations in Spokane in September. What's more, a northern Idaho man died of the virus in late September, according to health officials.

Though an early arrival of the virus is no indicator that the entire season will be bad, health officials are urging residents to get flu shots.

"Now is the best time - while the number of flu cases is still low - to get vaccinated. We can protect ourselves and also our family, friends and the community," said family nurse practitioner Sarah Fincham, assistant clinical professor at Washington State University's college of nursing in Spokane.

Those hospitalized were sickened by influenza Type A (H3N2), a strain typically associated with more severe symptoms, said Malia Nogle of the Spokane Regional Health District. It is also the predominant strain circulating in Australia, which is wrapping up one of its worst flu seasons on record, according to health officials there.

Patterns in the southern hemisphere help lay the groundwork for predicting what could happen when the virus establishes itself in North America, Fincham said.

"Every year the World Health Organization looks to outbreaks in the Southern Hemisphere to gauge which strains are circulating and how virulent they are," she said.

The influenza virus circulates most heavily during their winter - which is our summer - and then migrates to the northern hemisphere as autumn arrives.

Ever punctual, the germ is popping up around the country, including here in the Pacific Northwest.

Over the years, Fincham, who treats patients in addition to teaching, has seen influenza clobber young, otherwise healthy patients. "They seem surprised that they actually got the flu," she said.

Because common misconceptions can cloud people's views about getting a shot, Fincham offers this evidence-based advice in favor of getting vaccinated:

The flu can kill people, including healthy adults.Getting a flu shot will not give you the flu. The vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that cannot transmit infection.The current vaccine provides protection against multiple strains of the virus, including H3N2.Even though the vaccine is not 100 percent effective in preventing flu, it can reduce the severity of flu symptoms.People age 65 and older are at high risk according to the Center for Disease Control.It takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect. Medical professionals advise getting the shot before influenza starts spreading widely.

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Weiford is the senior news writer for WSU News. She can be reached at (509) 335-7209 or linda.weiford@wsu.edu.

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