BOISE -- The flu is nasty this year. It's early in the season and already 23 flu-related deaths have been reported in Idaho.
In an average flu season, public health officials say that's the total number of deaths.
It's so bad that a school district in north Idaho had to shut its doors. Kellogg School District announced Wednesday night that they're closing schools and buildings and suspending activities for the rest of the week because of a flu outbreak. They want staff and students to stay home, rest and get treated while the district deep-cleans buildings.
KTVB spoke with the Boise School District about whether they're seeing anything along those lines, and asked public health officials what's going on.
Fortunately in the Boise School District, flu cases aren't alarming like they are in the Panhandle.
"We're seeing a few now," Boise School District spokesman Dan Hollar said. "We're not seeing the level of flu-like symptoms, cases of flu symptoms like they are having unfortunately up north in Pinehurst Elementary School."
According to the Shoshone News Press, the Kellogg School District says about one-third of Pinehurst Elementary School students were absent on Tuesday because of flu-related sickness, so they canceled school.
Then, as mentioned earlier, the entire Kellogg School District announced on Facebook that facilities will be closed until Monday.
"If we ever got that point we'd enter into a conversation with health professionals like Central District Health and/or the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare," Hollar added. "We're not to that point. We had a number of cases between Thanksgiving and Christmas - flu-like symptoms among our students and some of our staff. We see a few cases, certainly not of the magnitude we had during Thanksgiving and Christmas."
But across the state, the illness is aggressive - particularly in northern Idaho, and particularly in people over 50 years of age.
"It certainly is widespread. There's no area of the state that is not affected by flu right now," Idaho Influenza Surveillance Coordinator Randi Pedersen told KTVB. 'We're certainly seeing an increase of patients at a lot of hospitals throughout Idaho."
Pedersen says ten new flu-related deaths were reported to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare in the last week, bringing the total reported deaths to 23 so far this flu season.
"Which is way more than we've seen in the past seven seasons," Pedersen said.
Seventy-two flu deaths were reported last flu season, which Pedersen says is a lot. But at this time last year, 13 deaths had been reported.
"Flu season is far from over; it can go through May in Idaho. So to see this many this early is very concerning," Pedersen added.
So why is it so bad?
"It's really hard to know that. The predominant influenza strain we're seeing this year is AH3 (Influenza A virus subtype H3N2) in Idaho and usually when we see that strain we tend to have more severe flu seasons," Pedersen said.
Public health officials say the flu vaccine is a good match for the viruses this year and protects against three or four of the different strains.
"So we certainly encourage everybody to get the flu shot. It's your best protection against flu," Pedersen added.
Health officials say: no, the flu shot does not give you the flu. It contains dead flu virus. They say you might get a local reaction or a mild fever, but that is your body responding and building immunity, which is normal.
Also, you can still get the flu even if you got the shot.
"If you do get the flu vaccine and you get sick any way a lot of times your illness is more mild, you're less likely to be hospitalized," Pedersen said.
Along with the vaccine, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following every day preventive actions to stop germs from spreading:
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
They also advise taking flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
Flu-like symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, chills, headaches, and fatigue. Someone with the flu may have respiratory symptoms without a fever. Some may also be vomiting or have diarrhea.