SPOKANE, Wash. - Wash your hands, get vaccinated, and don't come to work sick. That's the message across the area Wednesday after news the flu claimed the life of a Spokane County woman in her 80's.
This is the first flu-related death in eastern Washington and officials with the Spokane County Regional Health District (SRHD) think the flu will take even more lives before the season is over.
Kim Papich, Spokesperson for the SRHD, said this year's flu, called H3N2, is very aggressive and particularly hard on older adults. It means the elderly population is much more vulnerable to the flu.
Community centers across the area are now taking measures to keep people healthy by combating the spread of germs. At the Southside Senior and Community Center on the South Hill, administrators posted "Stop the flu in its tracks" signs all over the building, with reminders to wash hands and use hand sanitizer. Their custodial staff is also working around the clock to sanitize doorknobs and surfaces.
Bonnie McDade, the Executive Director of the Southside Senior & Community Center, said the biggest challenge is ensuring that the large and consistent flow of people who walk through their doors make sure they're staying healthy. She said between 750 and 1,000 seniors come to the center every week to exercise, play games, and socialize.
"[We're] really concerned. I'm personally doing my positive thinking on everything I possibly can. But given the fact that this thing is so rampant and we are with this vulnerable population, we're very concerned," McDade said.
Even while recovering from a broken ankle, McDade spends the day ensuring that the senior is as germ-free as possible.
"I guess that's why I went around and I'm like the Gestapo around here," she continued, with a laugh. "Somebody said ‘Bonnie was on a rampage' and I am to try to stop it as fast as we can, as much as we can."
So far, the flu has not appeared to have affected the folks at the Southside Senior and Community Center.
FACTS FROM SPOKANE COUNTY REGIONAL HEALTH DISTRICT:
38 Spokane County residents have been hospitalized since start of flu season (early October), compared to just four during the same period last year. Flu season in Spokane typically peaks in February and March. The state reports six total deaths this season-all on the west side of the state. It's very likely that statewide hospitalization levels and deaths will continue to climb. This Friday, CDC also published early interim estimates of the effectiveness of this season's influenza vaccine. Findings from early data suggest that this season's vaccine so far is reducing the risk of having to go to the doctor for influenza by about 60% for people who got vaccinated. Also, influenza vaccination, even with moderate effectiveness, has been shown to offer substantial other benefits including reducing illness, antibiotic use, time lost from work, hospitalizations, and deaths. Anyone 6 months and older who has not gotten vaccinated yet this season should get vaccinated. Washington State has an adequate supply of vaccine. People seeking vaccination may need to call more than one provider to locate vaccine. The flu vaccine locator at <http://flushot.healthmap.org> may be helpful. Appointments can be made at the SRHD Public Health Clinic at (509) 324-1600. Antiviral treatment initiated as soon as possible is especially important for people who are very sick with influenza, such as those requiring hospitalization, and people who are at high risk of developing serious influenza-related complications, like young children, people 65 and older, people with certain underlying chronic conditions, and pregnant women. Respiratory etiquette is also essential to preventing the spread of flu virus. Cover your cough, wash your hands frequently, and if you are ill, stay home.
· For more information about influenza and influenza vaccine visit <www.srhd.org/flu> or www.cdc.gov/flu <http://www.cdc.gov/flu>. Spokane Regional Health District's web site also offers comprehensive, updated information about the health district and its triumphs in making Spokane a safer and healthier community. Become a fan of SRHD on Facebook <http://www.facebook.com/spokanehealth> to receive local safety and wellness tips. You can also follow us on Twitter @spokanehealth <http://twitter.com/>.