Avian Influenza Detected in Skagit County

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June 14, 2022

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a red-tailed hawk collected from Skagit County on May 11, 2022, has tested positive for HPAI H5N1, a strain of avian influenza or “Bird Flu.” At this time, we can assume that Avian Influenza is actively circulating in Skagit County, similar to much of Washington State.

Avian influenza viruses, such as the H5N1 strain, are extremely contagious among certain domesticated bird species, and can sicken and kill chickens, pheasants, and turkeys, among other domestic fowl. The virus is often spread to domestic birds through interactions with wild birds.

DOH and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are asking the public to avoid contact with wild birds, especially sick or dead wild birds or their young. State officials are asking people to report any sick or dead wild or domestic birds using the following resources:

While avian influenza infections among people are rare, human infections can happen when the virus gets into an individual’s eyes, nose, or mouth, or is inhaled. People may be at greater risk of bird flu virus infection during close or lengthy unprotected contact (not wearing respiratory protection or eye protection) with infected birds or contaminated surfaces.

Please note that chicken, eggs and other poultry and poultry products are safe to eat when properly handled and cooked.

If an individual develops flu-like symptoms within 10 days of contact with an ill or dead wild bird, they should contact their healthcare provider, as well as Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.

For more information, as well as safety tips, please visit DOH’s Avian Influenza webpage at https://doh.wa.gov/avian-influenza or call 1-800-525-0127.

Knock Out Flu: Think of It as Your Best Defense

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From the WA Department of Health

Think of It as Your Best Defense

This year, it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated against the flu. The flu vaccine can keep you from getting and spreading the flu to others during the COVID-19 pandemic and help keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Why is it so important to get the flu vaccine this year?

Flu activity was unusually low last year. People in Washington did a great job getting their flu vaccine, and the COVID-19 safety measures like masking, staying home, and limiting gatherings also helped limit the spread of the flu. But this year, many of these safety measures are lifted.

Some people are returning to work in-person, and most children are going back to in-person school. That means we have a much higher risk of exposure to the flu virus. And with last year’s low activity, most people weren’t as exposed to flu viruses, so they don’t have much natural immunity to the flu anymore. Getting the flu vaccine is your best defense.

Should I still get the flu vaccine if I’m usually healthy?

Yes, we recommend the flu vaccine for everyone six months and older. The flu vaccine protects not only you, but also the people you’re around. Flu can be serious even in healthy people, but some people are at higher risk including:

  • People 65 years and older
  • Young children, especially those under 5 years of age
  • Pregnant people
  • People with medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or neurologic conditions

While flu illness can be mild in most people, it’s important to remember how serious flu really is. Sadly, over 900 people in Washington died from flu-related illness in the last five years, including many children. The flu vaccine saves lives.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

You should get your flu vaccine before the end of October for the best protection through the fall and winter months when flu is most likely to spread. You can even get your COVID19 and flu vaccines at the same time. You can still get a flu vaccine for several months after October and get protection through the end of the flu season in the spring.

Where can I get a flu vaccine?

You can visit your local doctor’s office, pharmacy or clinic event in your area. Visit www.vaccinefinder.org or call the Help Me Grow Washington hotline at 1-800-322-2588 (language assistance available) to find a flu vaccine location near you. If you’re working,
you can also check with your employer to see if they are hosting an on-site clinic for their staff.

Does my insurance cover the flu vaccine?

Most insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare part B, cover the cost of flu vaccine for adults. If you do not have insurance, you may still be able to get the flu vaccine at no cost.

Children aged 18 and under in Washington can get a flu vaccine and other recommended vaccines at no cost. The provider may charge an administration fee to give the vaccine. You can ask them to waive this fee if you cannot afford it.

For more information, visit www.KnockOutFlu.org.

Updates from the COVID-19 Test Site

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November 17, 2020

Beginning on Wednesday, November 18th, the Skagit County COVID-19 drive-through testing site will be moving to the Skagit County Fair Grounds. The Fair Grounds are located at 501 Taylor Street, Mount Vernon, WA 98273. Please enter through the South Gate Entrance.

New Hours of Operation

Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Thursday: 12 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Testing services will still be available to anyone who lives or works in Skagit County, and who is 5 years of age and older.

New testing site map at the Skagit County Fair Grounds

Please note: The current COVID Testing site located at the Skagit Valley College will be closed Monday, November 16th and Tuesday, November 17th to facilitate the relocation. If you are symptomatic and need testing, please contact your local hospital or Primary Care Provider for information on where to seek testing during this transition time.

This is a very exciting move for Skagit County and its partnering agencies! The facilities at the Fair Grounds will allow for more protection against winter weather for site staff, volunteers, and guests. The relocation will also help with the County’s plans for sustainability, as well as our mission to protect the health and wellbeing of our residents.

Flu Clinic Rescheduled

Due to dangerous winds, the Flu Clinic that had been scheduled for November 14th-15th had to be postponed. The new dates for the Flu Clinic are Saturday, November 21st and Sunday, November 22nd, from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Skagit County Fair Grounds (South Gate Entrance).

This free flu clinic is being provided for uninsured Skagit County adults. Please note that free flu vaccines are available for children at your local pharmacy or through your child’s doctor.  

For more information about the testing site or flu clinic, please visit www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Home or call Public Health at (360) 416-1500.

Flu Vaccine for Uninsured Adults Available

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November 10, 2020

Today, Skagit County Unified Command announced that Skagit Public Health will use the drive through testing site to provide seasonal flu vaccine for uninsured adults on Saturday, November 14 and Sunday, November 15 from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

“Flu vaccines are a good idea every year, but its more important than ever that all adults who are able get vaccinated. COVID-19 and the flu have several similar symptoms, so those with the flu could easily overwhelm limited COVID-19 testing resources, hospital beds and other parts of our medical system. Additionally, if someone were to contract both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, they’d be at much higher risk for lower health outcomes. This is an important service we’re happy to provide.”

Jennifer Johnson, Skagit County Public Health Director

This service is for adult flu vaccine only; children’s vaccinations will not be provided. Vaccine will be available for those 19 years of age or older, who do not have medical insurance. COVID-19 testing or services will not be provided on those days, per the usual testing schedule. Vaccine doses for uninsured adults have been provided by the Washington State Department of Health.

“We’re really fortunate to have a site already set up that makes distribution of these extra vaccines possible. The Board fully supports Unified Command and Public Health in their efforts.”

Ron Wesen, Chair of the Skagit County Board of Commissioners

The testing site is located at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon (2405 East College Way, Mount Vernon, WA 98273). The site will be open to provide flu vaccinations for uninsured adults from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 14 and Sunday, November 15. COVID-19 testing will not be available those days. Vaccines for children will also not be available, but uninsured children can get a free or low cost vaccination at their local pharmacy or through their primary care provider.

If you have questions, or need additional information, call Public Health at 360-416-1500.


PARA PUBLICACIÓN INMEDIATA: El Condado de Skagit ofrecerá la vacuna contra la gripe para adultos sin seguro en el lugar de pruebas el 14 y 15 de noviembre.

Hoy, el Comando Unificado del Condado de Skagit anunció que Salud Pública utilizará el sitio de pruebas para proporcionar la vacuna contra la influenza estacional para adultos sin seguro el sábado 14 de noviembre y el domingo 15 de noviembre de 9:00 a.m. a 3:00 p.m.

Este servicio es para vacuna contra la gripe sólo para adultos; no se proporcionarán vacunas para niños. La vacuna estará disponible para aquellos de 19 años de edad o más, que no tengan seguro médico. Las pruebas o los servicios de COVID-19 no se proporcionarán en esos días, según el programa de pruebas usual. El Departamento de Salud del Estado de Washington ha proporcionado las dosis de vacuna para adultos sin seguro.

“Las vacunas contra la influenza son siempre una buena idea todos los años, pero es más importante que nunca que todos los adultos que puedan que se vacunen,” dijo la Directora de Salud Pública Jennifer Johnson, “El COVID-19 y la gripe tienen varios síntomas similares, así que las personas con gripe podrían fácilmente sobrepasar los recursos limitados de pruebas de COVID-19, las camas de hospital y otras partes de nuestro sistema médico. Más aun, si alguien contrajera COVID-19 y la gripe al mismo tiempo, correría un riesgo mucho mayor de sufrir resultados de salud más bajos. Este es un servicio importante que nos complace proporcionar”.

“Realmente somos afortunados de tener un sitio ya establecido que hace posible la distribución de estas vacunas adicionales”, dijo el Presidente de la Junta de Comisionados del Condado de Skagit, Ron Wesen. “La Junta apoya plenamente al Comando Unificado y la Salud Pública en sus esfuerzos”.

El sitio de pruebas se encuentra en Skagit Valley College en Mount Vernon (2405 Oriental College Way, Mount Vernon, WA 98273). El sitio estará abierto para proporcionar vacunas contra la influenza para adultos sin seguro de 9:00 a.m. a 3:00 p.m. el sábado 14 y domingo 15 de noviembre. Las pruebas de COVID-19 no estarán disponibles esos días. Las vacunas para niños tampoco estarán disponibles, pero los niños sin seguro pueden recibir una vacuna gratis o de bajo costo en su farmacia local o a través de su proveedor de atención primaria.

Si tiene preguntas o necesita información adicional, llamar a Salud Pública al 360-416-1500.

Knock out Flu: Think of it as Essential

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Blog post by the WA Department of Health

Think of It as Essential

This year, it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated against the flu. The flu vaccine can keep you from getting and spreading the flu to others during the COVID-19 pandemic and help keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed. We may not have a vaccine for COVID-19 yet, but we do have one for flu.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

You should get your flu vaccine before the end of October for the best protection through the winter months when the flu is most likely to spread. However, flu vaccines will still be available for several months after October and will still offer protection through the end of the flu season in the spring.

How can I safely get a flu vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Just like running errands, you should take the same precautions while getting your flu vaccine to keep you and your family safe from COVID-19 and other illnesses. Be sure to wear a face covering, wash your hands often, and stay six feet away from others while you are out.

Clinics and pharmacies are also following special safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, there may be options like drive-through vaccination clinics, or you may be asked to wait outside or in your car until your appointment time to limit the number of people in the building. Call your clinic or pharmacy and ask what kind of safety procedures they follow.

Some grocery stores have also created special hours for adults over 65 and people with compromised immune systems, and those hours may be a safer time for you to visit the pharmacy for a vaccination.

Where can I get a flu vaccine?

You can visit your local doctor’s office, pharmacy or clinic event in your area. Visit www.vaccinefinder.org to find a flu vaccine location near you.

Does my insurance cover the flu vaccine?

Most insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare part B, cover the cost of flu vaccine for adults. If you do not have insurance, you may still be able to get the flu vaccine at no cost. Talk to your local health department for more information.

Children aged 18 and under in Washington can get a flu vaccine and other recommended vaccines at no cost. The provider may charge an administration fee to give the vaccine. You can ask them to waive this fee if you cannot afford it.

For more information, visit www.KnockOutFlu.org.
To reach Skagit County Public Health, dial (360) 416-1500.

What’s worse than a pandemic?! A pandemic during flu season!

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It’s the end of August-the weather is cooling down, the kids are headed back to (virtual) school and pumpkin spice is available once again. Flu season is also just around the corner and this year it’s more important than ever that everyone get a flu vaccine as soon as possible—ideally by the end of October.

Why is it important to get a flu vaccine?

There are lots of great reasons to get a flu vaccine: namely, that it prevents you from getting the seasonal flu, an uncomfortable and potentially deadly illness. Some facts:

  • During the 2016-2017 flu season, vaccinations prevented an estimated 5.3 million illnesses, 2.6 million medical visits and 85,000 flu-associated hospitalizations.
  • Vaccination for people with chronic health conditions can help lessen the severity of the illness and prevent hospitalization or other negative health outcomes.
  • Vaccinating pregnant persons has been shown to not only protect the individual from the flu, but to protect the baby from flu infection for several months after birth before the baby can be vaccinated themselves at age 6 months.  

Additionally, COVID-19 (a respiratory illness with some symptoms in common with the flu) is still very present in our communities. Vaccination can prevent confusion on illnesses and reduce strain on already overburdened healthcare systems. Getting vaccinated for the flu will help keep testing, hospital beds and medical care available for COVID-19 patients who will need it the most.

I got one last year, do I need to get one again?

Yes. The seasonal flu virus mutates quickly. The virus is constantly changing, so flu vaccines are specially manufactured each year to best match/protect you from the current common viral strains of flu. Further, protection from a flu vaccine declines over time so yearly vaccination is needed for protection.

Can I get the flu from a vaccine?

No. Flu shots are made using either a dead version of the flu virus (called inactivated vaccines) or without virus at all (recombinant vaccines). Some minor side effects are relatively common like soreness, redness and/or swelling at the injection site, low grade fever and some muscle aches. You can talk to your medical provider or pharmacist about side effects and what to expect or watch out for in yourself and any kids you’re taking to get vaccinated.

Are flu vaccines safe?

Yes. Flu vaccines have an excellent safety record. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years and extensive research supports the safety of seasonal flu vaccines. More information on the safety of flu vaccines is available at: www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/vaccinesafety.htm.

Where can I get vaccinated?

Vaccination will be available through your primary care provider, health clinics and many pharmacies. You can also search for vaccines through Vaccinefinder.org.   

When will COVID-19 vaccines be available?

We honestly don’t know. Testing is still being conducted to ensure the effectiveness and safety of a variety of potential COVID-19 vaccines. Public Health is working now in planning efforts with our vaccine partners so we will be ready when COVID-19 vaccines become available in Washington State.  Be aware that the initial vaccine supplies will be limited and so will be targeted for the people at highest risk.  As soon as we have more information, we’ll let you know.

COVID-19 and the Flu Don’t Compare

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The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19, has been compared at times to the flu. The flu kills tens of thousands of Americans every year. Yet we don’t shut down businesses, close schools and issue “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” orders to limit the spread of the flu. What makes the coronavirus so different? Why do we need to take strong action such as physical distancing with COVID-19? While the full picture is not yet complete, it’s increasingly clear that the flu, while it should be taken seriously, pales in comparison to COVID-19

  1. Novel coronavirus spreads more rapidly than the flu.

While all flu strains are slightly different, research shows that, on average, a person infected with the flu infects 1.28 additional people. By contrast, a person infected with the novel coronavirus spreads the virus to two or three additional people.

What does this look like? Even if we take the conservative estimate of spreading COVID-19 to just two people instead of three, you can see that the spread of the virus happens much more rapidly than the spread of the flu.

COVID-19 Spreads Rapidly

2. COVID-19 is contagious longer before people start showing symptoms, meaning people are more likely to spread it before they know they’re sick.

With the flu, you typically have symptoms between one to four days after exposure, with most people showing symptoms after two days, and are contagious 24 hours before you feel sick Once people start feeling sick with the flu, they generally stay home, minimizing the spread of the virus.

Infected people start showing symptoms of COVID-19 one to 14 days after exposure, with most people showing symptoms after four or five days. It appears that the coronavirus can spread 48 to 72 hours before the onset of symptoms, and we’re discovering some people have minimal or no symptoms at all. These people don’t know that they have COVID-19 and may not follow social distancing guidelines. In turn, they can pass the virus along to people who may get severely ill or even die from COVID-19. This is one possible explanation for why people who are infected with the virus spread it to more people than the flu.

3. COVID-19 doesn’t seem to slow down with warmer weather, like the flu.

In the U.S., flu season usually begins in the fall and lasts until March or sometime in early spring, with the peak in cases occurring between December and February. As the weather warms, flu activity generally decreases. While there are many reasons why this may be the case, research shows that the virus spreads more easily in cooler temperatures. Higher temperatures can cause degradation of the flu virus in a much shorter time.

With COVID-19, however, there’s no guarantee that warmer weather will slow the spread. Countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, Brazil and Ecuador, all in their summer season, are experiencing high spread of the virus. As social distancing guidelines ease in Washington State over the coming months, it’s possible we’ll see a resurgence of the virus despite warmer weather. Only time will tell.

4. COVID-19 kills at a faster rate than the flu.

We’re still in the middle of this pandemic, so it’s impossible for us to say with certainty what the death rate of COVID-19 will end up being. As it becomes clearer that some people have the novel coronavirus without symptoms, the implication is that the death rate should be lower than the one to two percent initially estimated. But it’s also becoming clear that many deaths that should have been attributed to COVID-19 have not been. Even though we cannot know for certain what the death rate of COVID-19 is, we can clearly say that it has killed more people in far shorter a time period than the flu.

The CDC estimates that in the 187 days between October 1, 2019, and April 4, 2020, 24,000-62,000 people in the U.S. died of the flu. These numbers mean that between 128 and 332 people died per day of the flu. This is a huge range, I know. The CDC uses modelling to estimate the number of flu deaths each year, so it’s not always possible to get an exact death toll.

The first known U.S. death from COVID-19, once thought to be in Kirkland, Washington, on Feb. 28, has been discovered to have occurred in the San Francisco Bay area on Feb. 6. In the 85 days between Feb. 6 and May 1, there have been 37,308 deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 by lab confirmation, equaling 439 COVID-19 deaths per day.

If we also consider deaths of cases with no lab confirmation – but who were considered probable for COVID-19 (based on symptoms, known exposure to the novel coronavirus, etc.) – there have been more than 67,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. This equals 788 COVID-19 deaths per day.

This is not a perfect comparison because the CDC uses modeling to estimate the number of flu deaths per season. The COVID-19 numbers reported here are actual deaths, not based on a model. The CDC does have a COVID-19 death forecast, but it changes based on the data, including when Stay Home orders are lifted. You can find it here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/forecasting-us.html

Let’s look at just Skagit County now. The 2019-2020 flu season, which has now come to a close, resulted in just one death in Skagit County. But COVID-19 has been another story. Skagit County’s first diagnosed COVID-19 case occurred on March 10. Just 11 days later, we sadly lost our first person to COVID-19. And since then, we’ve lost 13 Skagitonians to COVID-19, more than doubling the death count of the worst flu season in recent years. While 13 people isn’t a huge number, the families and friends of those 13 people lost huge parts of their worlds to this virus. We don’t want more people experiencing the pain of such a loss. It’s safe to assume that this death toll would be higher without the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order; look at the death rate in Sweden, which has not instituted social distancing guidelines, versus the other Nordic nations that have.

It’s likely the number of reported COVID-19 deaths is underestimated, and likely significantly underestimated. The CDC has begun estimating the burden of COVID-19 deaths by looking at the number of excess deaths from what would be expected. More information on that can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/excess_deaths.htm

5. COVID-19 does not have a vaccine.

Influenza is a long-known, well-studied virus. There are vaccines available for all sorts of strains of the virus, and a well-established supply chain ensures enough doses are available for each new flu season. While some years the vaccine is less effective than other years, people who get the vaccine and still get the flu generally have a milder case of the illness than unvaccinated people.

Of course, not everyone gets vaccinated, sometimes because of personal choice, sometimes because of health conditions that make vaccination dangerous, sometimes because it’s easy to let things slip by unnoticed. The CDC estimates that right around 60% of Americans, give or take a few percentage points, get the flu vaccine each year. The more people who get the vaccine, the fewer people the virus can infect and the slower the spread.

There is no vaccine available for the novel coronavirus. Even if you want it, you can’t get it. In the past, vaccines for new viruses took 10 or more years to develop. Scientists are working hard to have one available sooner than that, maybe even within a year or so. But until then, this virus will spread, infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands around the world.

The only defense we have against this virus is to limit the spread ourselves. This means washing our hands often and using hand sanitizer when we can’t. It means avoiding crowds and only going out when we absolutely need to, wearing a mask in public, and staying at least six feet away from non-household members. As businesses start to open back up, it may be tempting to forget social distancing, but that is likely to lead to a resurgence of the virus, meaning we’ll have to shut down all over again. So take precautions and limit your trips out. It’s not easy and it’s not fun, but it saves lives.

It could even save your life.

Sources:https://bmcinfectdis.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2334-14-480; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7074654/; https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/if-youve-been-exposed-to-the-coronavirus; http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2014/the-reason-for-the-season-why-flu-strikes-in-winter/; https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm; https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm