Mumps patient from Mill Creek intensifies record flu season

By Dan Aznoff | Jan 27, 2017
Courtesy of: Heather Thomas BIG SHOTS—Penny Creek Elementary students (l-r) Eli Thomas (8), Jossalyn Thomas (4) and Carter Thomas (10) show off the Band-Aids they earned after receiving their flu shots this fall.The siblings live in Mill Creek with their parents, Jeremy and Heather Thomas.

An adult from Mill Creek who was diagnosed as the second reported case of the mumps this year has added strain on the already limited resources of the Snohomish County Health Department that was already struggling to cope with eight deaths from the flu.

The local resident was tested positive for the mumps after returning from Brazil. A child from Everett also tested positive for the contagious disease after reportedly being exposed during a visit to South King County.

“Disease outbreaks like the flu and mumps serve as important reminders to get vaccinated, wash your hands often and stay home when you’re sick,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, director of the Snohomish Health District. “Both of these are highly contagious and serious diseases that shouldn’t be ignored.”

The impact of the flu epidemic has reopened the possibility that Mill Creek might help subsidize the operating budget of the health district. A motion by Councilwoman Donna Michelson to contribute 50-cents per resident (approximately $10,000) was defeated at a council meeting earlier this month.

Several larger cities in the county—including Everett, Snohomish and Bothell—have pledged between $1 and $2 per resident, while six smaller cities—including Brier, Woodway and Gold Bar-- also declined to help offset the increased costs faced by the district. Officials in Mukilteo will consider an increase to the 50-cent per resident commitment at an upcoming city council meeting.

The per-capita contributions from Snohomish County and individual cities amounted to approximately one-quarter of 1 percent of the Health District’s $16 million annual budget.

Pull our weight

“I was certainly disappointed at the council’s decision not to answer the desperate plea made by the district,” Michelson told The Beacon. “The ask from the District was not unexpected. We can certainly afford it considering all the wonderful proactive things the District does for citizens of Mill Creek.”

Michelson said she considers herself fiscally conservative, but feels “Mill Creek needs to pull our weight” when it comes to matters of public health.

Councilman Mark Bond, who serves as the Mill Creek representative on the Health District board, said the city could also release its interest in the Rucker Building in Everett if the District goes ahead with plans to sell its administrative headquarters. Bond said Mill Creek contributed $40,000 toward the purchase of the building in 1990.

The increase in flu hospitalizations not only means long waits for patients seeking care, but impacts on the broader hospital and EMS systems in the County, said Bond. The district needs the infusion of funds simply to maintain the services it currently provides.

“It is a matter of being a good neighbor,” Bond said. “We do not live in a bubble. Infectious diseases do not recognize the border between cities. What goes around can come around and bite the good citizens of Mill Creek.”

The Councilman emphasized the district has struggled to fulfill its responsibilities without filling eight full-time vacancies in critical areas that include the inspection of restaurants, childcare centers and senior care facilities.

Mayor Pam Pruitt voted with the majority to deny the request from the health district, but seemed open to reconsidering the motion after recent actions taken by other cities.

“We finally have a balanced budget,” said Pruitt. “I would like to take this year to determine our revenues and would be happy to reconsider changing our contribution to the district for 2018.”

Record number hospitalized

More people have been hospitalized for symptoms of influenza than any year since 2009, the first year the county began to tract the number of flu cases, according to Goldbaum. Emergency rooms at hospitals in Everett have treated more than 300 patients per day, while another 750-800 patients per day have sought treatment at walk-in clinics.

A spokesperson for the district said each of the people who died from the flu this year had underlying health problems, including the latest victims, a 90-year-old woman from Everett in her early 90s and another 90-year-old woman from Montlake Terrace. The youngest was a woman in her early 50s.

The district director said the best way to combat the flu is to avoid the illness by washing hands frequently and prevent spreading airborne germs by covering any cough. Goldbaum advised people with flu symptoms to stay home until they have been free of a fever for at least 24 hours.

“We urge everyone, unless they have really severe symptoms, such as chocking, trouble breathing or high fevers, to call their own (healthcare) provider first,” said Goldbaum.

Flu shots are still recommended, and there is still plenty of vaccine available at medical clinics and from many pharmacies in the area. The flu season is expected to last until at least March.

“Unlike most viruses,” Goldbaum concluded, “we have a vaccine for the flu.”

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