Influenza has yet to make its formal annual appearance in the Mid-Columbia, health and hospital officials said, but its arrival is likely imminent and there are plenty of other nasty illnesses making the rounds.
Flu-like symptoms and respiratory illnesses have left some health care providers busy as winter sets in.
However, there have only been sporadic instances of verified influenza cases in the area in recent weeks, based on people visiting their doctors, clinics and emergency rooms.
“So far the season has been very mild, which is great,” said Lisa Teske, spokeswoman for Trios Health.
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There have also been relatively few reports of norovirus, also called the “winter vomiting disease,” which has caused outbreaks in several places around the country, including California.
This year’s flu shot is a better match then last year’s.
John Matheson, medical director for Kadlec Regional Medical Center’s emergency room
Health care and hospital officials say people shouldn’t let their guard down — flu season typically starts later in the Mid-Columbia, in January or February.
And with the holiday season coming to an end, with people returning from travels to see family and friends, conditions are ripe for illness to spread.
“Just because it’s quiet now doesn’t mean it will be quiet later,” said Heather Hill, supervisor of clinic services for Benton Franklin Health District.
Flu season has started as early as October in the Tri-Cities, bringing with it fever, cough, chills and aches. While symptoms can be minor, the disease can be fatal and is particularly hard on young children, the elderly or those with specific health issues.
There is no requirement for doctors or clinics to report verified flu cases and not everybody stricken with it seeks medical attention. Many other illnesses have similar symptoms.
Norovirus is less pleasant, causing vomiting and diarrhea. Those symptoms typically last a few days and, as with the flu, has no requirement to be reported to county or state health officials.
Both diseases are very contagious, officials said, as they can survive on surfaces for a relatively long time, increasing the likelihood they’ll be touched by someone who then touches their mouth, nose or eyes. Someone can spread the flu before they show symptoms and an individual hit by norovirus can shed the virus up to two weeks after their symptoms disappeared.
Frequent handwashing and observing proper coughing etiquette, such as coughing into the crook of your arm rather than your hands, are among the best ways to protect against infection and prevent spreading it.
Doctors say it’s also not too late to get a flu shot to provide even more protection.
“This year’s flu shot is a better match then last year’s,” said John Matheson, medical director for Kadlec Regional Medical Center’s emergency room.