Flu spreads like 'wildfire,' Kirkland school calls off classes

KIRKLAND -- Flu season has arrived, but for one local school it's already turned into an epidemic.

Eastside Preparatory School in Kirkland is calling off classes for the rest of the week. School officials say the flu saying is spreading like wildfire.

“We’ve seen an increase of 5 kids to 7 kids to 10 kids to 12 kids,” said Head of School Dr. Terry Macaluso.

Now up to 20% of students are miserable with the flu.

“This is muscle pain, aches, real old-fashioned flu,” Macaluso said.

After getting the flu and taking a few days off, Macaluso came back to what she calls "a germ factory." That prompted her to start winter break two days early.

“I’ve never done this before, I’ve never seen these kind of numbers before in terms of this level of illness,” Macaluso said.

She's hoping a two-week vacation will cure the flu epidemic at her school, but health officials say it's just the beginning for the Pacific Northwest.

“Levels will increase in the next 4 to 6 weeks -- we will see an increase in the flu,” said Jeff Duchin with King County Public Health.

Symptoms started showing up a little earlier this year. So far, the strain known as Influenza A H3N2 is the virus behind most of the illnesses. H3N2 is typically a more severe virus than other strains.

“Which means more illnesses, more hospitalization and unfortunately more deaths,” Duchin said.

According to the CDC, the latest vaccine may not be the best match for the virus right now, but local experts say it is still the best defense.

“We can’t predict how well the vaccine will work, but what we can tell you is that you will get some benefits,” Duchin said.

Experts say now is the time to get a vaccine as more and more schools are seeing a spike in the flu.

“If your kids are sick keep them home, if a teacher is sick stay home,” Macaluso said.

Although Eastside Preparatory School is closed starting Thursday, teachers will still show up so they can help students with homework online.