Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Blaine County Records State’s First Influenza Death
Thursday, November 5, 2020


We thought we had our hands full keeping COVID at arm’s length.

Now, Blaine County has recorded its first death from influenza. That, along with the death of a woman in Twin Falls County, are the first influenza-related deaths of the 2020-21 season in Idaho.

The Blaine County man was older than 60 years of age. The Twin Falls woman was older than 80. Both were also infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Blaine County also reported the first two COVID-related deaths in Idaho in March 2020.

Both influenza and COVID can be serious, and there is concern that having both at the same time can be exponentially more serious, said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, the Idaho influenza surveillance coordinator.

“I encourage everyone to get their annual flu vaccine as soon as possible to reduce the chance of getting the flu,” she said. “This is extremely important this season.”

Melody Bowyer, director of the South Central Public Health District, concurred: “Fighting one disease is hard enough on the body. Add another and complications become more likely. Help us protect you by getting a flu shot and taking precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

That is easier said than done this year, as many Blaine County residents have found out.

Local pharmacies have had difficulty securing enough flu shots, particularly the high dose flu vaccine, which has been available since 2009. Shortages have prompted some valley residents to go to Boise, Twin Falls, even Pocatello, in search of flu shots.

The Fluzone High-Dose for those 65 and older and those with preexisting health conditions contains four times the antigen as the regular flu shot. A clinical trial of 30,000-plus participants showed those who received it had a quarter fewer influenza illnesses as those who received the standard dose.

There has been a run on flu shots in Blaine County this year because of COVID. In addition, the school district vaccinated all of its staff against the flu.

On average, 41 influenza-related deaths occur each year in Idaho, mostly among people older than 50. A contagious virus, it causes respiratory illness in 5 percent to 20 percent of the population. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills or fatigue.

But it can be prevented with the help of a flu shot. Healthcare workers say the flu vaccine does not make someone susceptible to COVID-19, nor does it cause a person to test positive for the coronavirus. It also does not cause flu illness, as the vaccine is made with either inactivated or killed viruses or with only a single protein from the virus.

Nasal spray vaccines contain live viruses that have been weakened so they won’t cause illness. There can be side effects from the nasal spray flu vaccine, including runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, fever sore throat and cough. But they are short-lived.

A randomized blinded study of the flu shot showed the only differences in symptoms between those who got flu shots and those who got salt-water shots was increased soreness in the arm.

Health officials say everyone over six months of age should get an annual flu vaccine. It’s especially important for people with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes, pregnant women, young children and anyone 65 and older.

Other precautions include:

  • Wearing a mask and physically distancing yourself
  • Washing your hands and using hand sanitizer frequently
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth until you have washed your hands
  • Staying home from work or school when sick
  • Covering your coughs and sneezes
  • Avoiding people who appear sick.





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