A map on flu activity in the United States for the week of Feb. 14-20, the most current available, showed flu was “widespread” in 21 states, including Washington, California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona.
The prevalence in Idaho was listed as “regional,” a step below widespread. Oregon, Montana and Wyoming were also among 18 states that had only regional levels of flu, according to the map generated for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“A lot of times we peak in early February — but we don’t think we’re there yet,” said Tom Shanahan, a spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. “What sets this season apart is how late it’s occurring. We think that it could turn bad here fairly quickly.”
Josh Schlaich, a spokesman for Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, said the hospital has seen “some spike in activity” regarding patients with flulike symptoms in the past couple of weeks.
Seasonal flu vaccinations are encouraged in the fall, but it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Influenza vaccines are much more effective this year than in the past. The worst of flu season typically passes by March 1 but it can last as late as May, according to the CDC.
Many pharmacies offer vaccinations. Health and Welfare’s website has a “Flu Vaccine Finder” option that allows users to key in their ZIP codes to find the nearest location. It’s often covered by insurance.
There’s been one influenza-related death in Idaho so far this season — a 60-year-old woman in North Idaho died in mid-December. There were 32 flu-related deaths in Idaho last winter.
Flu and other illnesses led administrators at Anser Charter School to shutter the school for a couple of days in early February.
Schlaich reminded those worried about getting the flu that one of the best ways to prevent it is good hand hygiene. Wash your hands often in soapy water. If soap isn’t available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.