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Three Œbugs¹ hitting Libby area hard

| February 15, 2005 11:00 PM

By Steve Kadel Western News Reporter

Effects of two strains of influenza and a third bug that have hit Libby-area residents hard might be tapering off soon.

That¹s the report from local physicians and school officials.

Jay Maloney, an emergency room doctor at St. John¹s Lutheran Hospital, said the first week of February brought lots of children ages 5 to 10 to the hospital for treatment.

Last week the trend shifted to their parents and seniors, which typically means the worst of the flu season has almost run its course, according to Maloney.

³Usually we see three weeks of the peak so maybe we¹re mostly out of it,² he said.

Positive tests for both influenza A and influenza B have been recorded ³in the hundreds² at the hospital, he said.

Meanwhile, Libby School District elementary-grade nurse Helena Cassidy said an unusually high number of students were absent from school Feb. 7-8 but things were getting back to normal by week¹s end.

It was a combination of maladies rather than one specific illness, Cassidy noted.

Mike Corbett, school nurse for the secondary grades, said more students were absent at the middle school than high school in the past few weeks.

³The high school kids hang in there even though they should be home because they want to complete their classes,² she said.

Corbett mentioned frequent hand-washing as the best preventive measure. Sometimes even that¹s not enough.

³We¹ve had teachers out and it¹s just nasty,² she said. ³That cough hangs on and on.²

The nationwide scarcity of flu vaccine meant it was reserved for high-risk populations, Corbett said. School district staff members who usually are offered shots didn¹t get them this season.

Maloney said the hospital¹s emergency room ³has been overrun² with patients this month.

³The common thing is people saying they¹ve never felt this bad,² he said. ³We hear that every winter, but it¹s more common this year.²

People complain of body aches, a runny nose, dry cough and scratchy throat, Maloney said. Besides influenza A and B cases, he added, ³there are people who are just as sick but have negative tests.²

He advised people who come down with any of the three illnesses to stay in bed and drink lots of liquid. Those who take care of themselves can kick the bug in as little as three days.

³People who try to get something done during the day are the ones who still have it on day seven,² Maloney said. ³Some people who try to get up and walk almost fall down.²

Maloney said hospital lab results in Libby show about half the cases are influenza B. That compares to approximately 25 percent of flu cases on the East Coast and relatively few cases in Washington state, he said.

Libby and Lincoln County are open to just about any strain nationwide, Maloney emphasized.

³We used to be an isolated ghetto,² he said. ³Travel has made it to where anything can happen these days.²