Orofino,Idaho-Window on the Clearwater
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A Tale of Two Viruses

by Dr. Kelly McGrath, Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics

This fall and winter we will face a viral enemy that has the ability to kill tens of thousands of Americans in a short period of time.

Some of the deaths will be due to the direct impact of the virus while other associated deaths will be due to heart attacks, severe pneumonias and other illnesses that follow in its wake. This is a virus that we can transmit to others even 24-48 hours before we have symptoms. It can infect people of all ages but disproportionately affects the elderly, those with chronic conditions and those who are medically vulnerable. Does this sound like a familiar story? It probably does although this time we are talking instead about the influenza virus.

The most effective ways to reduce becoming infected by the influenza virus are similar to those we are using for the coronavirus. They include covering your sneezes and coughs with your elbow, avoiding shaking hands, frequent handwashing, avoiding contact with others who might be sick and, if you are sick, to stay away from others. Hopefully, these are measures we are already following to prevent spread of COVID-19. These will be helpful tools as well to prevent illness from influenza.

The good news about influenza is that we have an additional tool that we do not have for the coronavirus: a proven flu vaccine. It is recommended that all of us older than six months of age be vaccinated for the seasonal influenza viruses with a flu vaccination. Since the flu virus changes every year, the protection from previous flu vaccines will not cover us for this year's circulating strains of influenza. For that reason, to be protected, receiving this year's flu vaccine is highly recommended. The vaccine is effective in reducing our chances of being infected by the influenza virus or, if we do get infected, our symptoms will be milder than if we had not received the vaccine.

This year, there is an additional important reason to get the influenza vaccine. Since symptoms of influenza are nearly identical to those of COVID-19, it will be extremely difficult to determine if a person is infected with COVID-19 or the influenza virus. It will require more testing, precautions and will burn through precious resources to sort through patients who are ill. Also, since some individuals become critically ill or at least ill enough to require hospitalization, they will require the same set of resources that are needed to take care of patients infected with COVID-19. This creates the risk to all of us in that the healthcare system of North Idaho and Eastern Washington could become stressed beyond capacity. This will compromise the system's ability to treat other ill patients including those with heart attacks, cancer, strokes, traumatic injuries and other serious illnesses. This is what some have called the "Twin-demic" of coronavirus and influenza virus. Again, the best way to protect the safety net of our regional healthcare systems is to not get sick in the first place.

In an effort to make vaccinating for influenza in our community easier and more accessible, Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics is reaching out to several area employers to deliver the vaccine directly to employees in their place of work. CVHC also will be hosting some flu vaccination clinics. Also, this year, to reduce exposure to others and to make it easy to receive your flu vaccine, CVHC will be offering a "drive through" vaccination clinic. This will enable patients to get vaccinated without even having to even leave their car. The first clinic will be held Saturday, Oct. 3rd from 8 a.m. - 12 p.m.at the Orofino Health Center.

Please protect yourself, others and the readiness of our healthcare system by getting your flu vaccine this fall.

Photo: Dr. Kelly McGrath

Window on the Clearwater
P.O. Box 2444
Orofino, ID 83544
Phone: (208) 476-0733
Fax: (208) 476-4140