No epidemic but flu bugs linger, vaccine still available

Virginia Graziani

Redwood Times

The good news is there are no signs of a flu epidemic in Humboldt County this year.

The bad news is those pesky flu germs are still around, so anyone who hasn't been vaccinated already should get a flu shot now.

The number of flu cases reported to the Humboldt Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is "on par for we expected this time of year," public health nurse Eric Gordon told the Redwood Times.

DHHS performed 84 lab tests on nasal swabs of patients with flu symptoms sent by medical providers from all over the county, Gordon said. Thirty of those samples tested positive for type A flu viruses.

The "vast majority" of those 30 positive tests showed a particularly nasty strain of type A flu known as H1N1 or "swine flu."

Four of the H1N1 patients were hospitalized and one, a man over 60 years of age, died.

H1N1 first appeared in the United States in 2009, part of a "pandemic" or worldwide mass outbreak. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated as many as 34 million cases in the U.S., including up to 153,000 hospitalizations and possibly 6,000 deaths. [See CDC's web page, "Updated CDC Estimates of 2009 H1N1 Cases," for details.]

"Although the World Health Organization announced the pandemic was over in August 2010, H1N1 is still circulating," according to, a website that provides flu information to the general public.

The "Hong Kong" flu pandemic of 1957-58 was originally thought to be an early outbreak of H1N1, but that has since proven to be false, Gordon said.

People who got their flu shots early this season, such as in September and October, do not need a second shot to extend their protection against H1N1, Gordon added.

"The CDC says the benefit of the flu vaccination lasts a full year."

But he strongly recommends that anyone who has not been vaccinated in the past year should get vaccinated as soon as possible, because the flu season is likely to continue for a while.

At the Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District, nurse and infection preventionist Debbie Scaife agrees that everyone should get vaccinated.

"Some people say they don't need a flu shot because they never get sick, but you can have the flu without symptoms and transmit it to other people," Scaife explained. "The vaccination protects not only you but your family and others."

The Garberville clinic has seen a lot of people with flu-like symptoms this year and administered the nasal swab "quick test" to everyone with a fever of 100 degrees and a sore throat and/or cough, Scaife said, but only a small number tested positive for type A or B influenza.

"We've seen a lot of absences, but not all of them were due to illness, and of those due to illness, parents are all over the map" with explanations, a Redway Elementary school staff person told the Redwood Times.

"I don't think the number of absences is unusual for this time of year," she added, noting that the absence rate is always high after the holidays because families take extended vacations at this time, and "there's always a lot of sickness this time of year - that's just how it is."

The first symptoms of flu are fever, a sore throat, and a cough, and then the illness progresses to fatigue and body aches, Scaife said. The latter symptoms are hallmarks of flu.

Both Scaife and Gordon advised staying home and resting if possible as the most important treatment for flu. The discomforts and fever can be treated with over-the-counter medications like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen.

"Go to the doctor if you have underlying conditions or respiratory distress," Gordon advised. "Underlying conditions" include pregnancy or conditions that suppress the immune system like HIV or chemotherapy.

Flu shots are available at the Garberville clinic for $25 for private pay patients. Medicare and Medi-Cal cover flu shots for their enrollees.

Redwoods Rural Health Center still has flu vaccine available.

DHHS also offers a walk-in flu vaccination clinic on Thursday afternoons from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at their building at 529 I Street, across from the county courthouse in Eureka. The cost is $17 except for those covered by Medicare and Medi-Cal.

Because of staff changes, the public health department office in Garberville is not offering flu vaccinations currently, but they should be available again in two weeks, Gordon said. Their phone number is 923-2759.