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Influenza outbreak spreads to Bonney Lake

By Dennis Box, The Courier-Herald

A wave of influenza has stalked the country this winter causing severe illness, increase absences at work and schools and, at times, hospitalization and death. Complicating the outbreak has been the rapidly dwindling supply of the influenza vaccine due to higher demand and an aggressive virus that has spread quickly across all 50 states.

Bonney Lake, Lake Tapps and surrounding neighborhoods have not been spared. While no deaths have been related to the outbreak in the area, medical clinics in Bonney Lake reported a dramatic increase in patients with flu-like symptoms over the past two weeks.

Area clinics began running out of the vaccine as early as November. The Family Practice clinic at Sound Family Medicine ran out on Dec. 5. "We really started to notice last week when we ran out," medical receptionist Angie Pratt said. "It seems like every day more people came through the door and wanted to know about the flu vaccine."

Shelly Evans, a medical receptionist for the Sound Family Pediatric clinic said, "We have enough for kids today, just today. We don't know if we can get any more. It's up to the Health Department."

Good Samaritan Hospital was scheduled to come to the Bonney Lake Safeway parking lot to disperse the vaccine from a mobile medical unit the second week of December, but canceled when they ran out of their supply.

The Washington State Department of Health has recommended that health-care providers save the shrinking supplies of the vaccine for high-risk patients. That includes those older than 50, the elderly, women in their second and third trimester of pregnancy, children or adults with chronic diseases and children between six and 23 months of age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the western states are being the hardest hit by the virus, but the numbers have not hit epidemic proportions, yet.

Dr. Sean Spout of Sound Family Medicine said, "this particular virus is the A strain of influenza, and the antibodies we are carrying in our bodies are not fighting off this specific type as well. The herd immunity for this strain is not working and that's one of the main reasons so many people are coming down with the illness."

The CDC estimates that 10 to 20 percent of the people in the Untied States contract influenza every year with an average of 114,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths from complications related to the illness, often pneumonia.

Three pandemics have struck the country in the last 100 years, the worst being the 1919 Spanish Influenza when 20 million people died worldwide, and more than 500,000 perished in the United States. The other outbreaks hit in 1958 and 1969.

"Influenza is a disease that tends to go in cycles," Dr. Spout said. "Somewhere down the road we think there may be another like 1919, but hopefully this isn't one."

Since the 1919 influenza outbreak the treatment options for a physician are much better, including several antiviral medications that are effective if administered within the first 48 hours on the onset of symptoms.

The antiviral medications are principally administered to people with health risks from diabetes, asthma or a heart condition. Most healthy people will have the typical symptoms of fever, headaches, sore throat, coughing, muscle aches and generally feeling terrible. The physician will treat the symptoms and let the illness run its course.

A small amount of the vaccine is still available for people in the high-risk category. The Wesite www.getaflushot.com list sites where the vaccine can be found.

The nasal spray known as FluMist is available, but is more expensive and not covered on most insurance plans. "This is the first year the nasal spray has been available," Dr. Spout said. It's a reasonable alternative and according to clinical trials it does work well. But it's hard to tell because it hasn't been widely used."

Medical advise regarding the outbreak has been for people to not panic, if you're in a high risk category continue to try and get a influenza vaccine and practice good health habits to avoid contracting the illness.

For more information go to the following Web sites:

€ www.cdc.gov/flu- The Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

€ www.tpchd.org - The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department

€ www.getaflushot.com

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com

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