TWIN FALLS — Brent Evans got a flu shot in late October just about as soon as the vaccine was available.
After his experiences battling influenza this summer — outside of the typical flu season — he wasn’t going to take his chances. With the exception of having pneumonia as a child, it was one of the worst illnesses he’d experienced.
It’s peak flu season now. Across Idaho, public health officials are worried about an uptick in influenza-related deaths so far this season — the most in seven years. Here in the Magic Valley, health officials say it’s a fairly typical year, but they’re urging community members to get a flu shot if they haven’t already.
“There’s a pretty good chance that our flu season will last far into February,” said Dr. Scott Holliday, an emergency medicine physician at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center. “It’s worth your while to get the vaccine.”
In total, 23 flu-related deaths have been reported across Idaho, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Evans’ illness began in late July and lasted a couple of weeks, into early August. He went to a doctor after three days of misery and was prescribed medication for an aggressive cough. He alternated between fever and chills, spiking at 103 and shook uncontrollably, sweating, losing sleep and barely eating. In total, he missed five days of work.
“Flu is widespread in Idaho and may be especially severe this season,” state influenza surveillance coordinator Randi Pedersen said in a statement Dec. 26. “Unfortunately, this flu season is far from over.”
Of the flu-related deaths, all but one were among those older than 50. A dozen were in northern Idaho and one was here in south-central Idaho in December. Last flu season, 72 deaths were reported in Idaho. That was up significantly from an average of 23 yearly since 2009. So far this season, numbers are on track to outpace last year.
Locally, Tanis Maxwell — an epidemiologist for South Central Public Health District — said she thinks flu activity is similar to previous years. But “it has started a little bit earlier than it normally would have.”
Holliday said he also thinks flu season in the Magic Valley hasn’t been more severe this year. But there are still quite a few cases. Of the 20-25 patients Holliday sees during an average ER shift, about 10 either have a confirmed case of the flu or a viral illness that’s likely the flu.
Evans, who works for the St. Luke’s Magic Valley Health Foundation, takes prospective physicians on tours of the hospital. Within the last month, he has had to limit the areas he takes them due to flu season because he doesn’t know whether they’ve received a flu shot.
“With the severity of this flu going on, it would be a hazard, really,” he said.
Flu symptoms can vary quite a bit from person-to-person. They can include a sudden fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache and fatigue. Symptoms are generally more severe than the common cold.
“Some people will make it through the flu and it feels more like a cold to them,” Holliday said. “Some people feel like they’ve been run over by a train.”
It may take patients three weeks to fully recover, he said.
There are multiple strains of the flu, and some years, it’s possible to have two peaks — each for a different strain of the flu. In the Magic Valley, influenza A seems to be the most prevalent. But nationwide, the B strain is a little more prevalent this season, Holliday said.
“When they make up the vaccine, they try to predict which one it’s going to be,” he said. “It’s difficult to say what’s actually working through our population — whether A or B.”
A Gooding resident is battling complications from influenza B, as well as a severe infection. He spent a week at a local hospital before being flown to the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. A friend created an online GoFundMe page to raise money to help with medical expenses.
In northern Idaho, Kellogg School District campuses were closed for three days and activities were canceled last week due to a flu outbreak. The school district’s custodial staff planned to deep clean the school buildings. Spokeswoman Eva Craner said she hasn’t heard of any Twin Falls schools being affected by higher than average flu-related absences.
TWIN FALLS — Women — and men — across the nation again will rally Sunday to show solidarity in supporting women’s issues. The movement began with the Women’s March 2017 on the first full day of President Donald Trump’s term.
This year’s national focus, “Power to the Polls,” will be to get more women to vote and to elect more women to public office.
“All voices need to be heard for balanced decisions, and those voices have a responsibility to actively participate to be heard,” said Catherine Talkington, a Twin Falls teacher and past political candidate. “Balance of power is our democracy working well.”
A local political group is sponsoring a march to coincide with the national rally to address women’s issues in the Magic Valley, including education, health, veterans, refugees, immigration, abuse and sexual orientation.
“Women’s issues are family issues,” organizer Linda Sturman of the Southern Idaho Progressive Coalition said Thursday. “We care about what is happening and we want to help make a change.”
The coalition plans to meet at the Twin Falls County Courthouse at 11 a.m. Sunday. Speakers will address immigration and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), refugees, women’s health issues and violence against women.
Participants will then walk down Shoshone Street to Main Avenue and back to City Park, where signature gatherers will circulate a petition to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot in November.
Since it formed, the SIPC marched in last year’s Western Day Parade and in the March for Science, sponsored the DACA protest at the Courthouse and the Filer city election forum.
“We bring small groups together to make a bigger voice,” Sturman said.
“Our goal is to recognize the successes that have been made throughout the year,” she said. “We want to keep it moving.”
If you do one thing: Brigham Young University Living Legends will perform at 7:30 p.m. at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Auditorium, 315 Falls Ave., Twin Falls. Tickets are $15 at the CSI Box Office.
BURLEY — Police say Luis Gabriel Ponce shot a Burley business owner in the stomach, then finished him off with a bullet to the head when he offered to let Ponce work for him rather than hand over cash.
The business owner, 58-year-old Christopher Fassett, was found dead Dec. 13 under a car he was working at in his shop on West Main Street.
Cassia County Sheriff Detective Robert Taylor testified about the case Jan. 19, at a preliminary hearing for Ponce. Cassia County Magistrate Judge Blaine Cannon ruled there was enough evidence to send the case to district court. Ponce, 21, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted robbery and burglary.
Cannon said it appears that Ponce acted with premeditation and malice in an attempt to rob and murder Fassett, whom he believed had $6,000 to $7,000 in cash at the shop.
“He was prepared to kill Mr. Fassett if necessary,” Cannon said.
Cannon said it appears Ponce didn’t like what he heard when Fassett denied his demand for money and briefly left the shop before deciding to carry out his plan. When Ponce went back inside, Cannon said, he was intending to do something bad.
Taylor testified that when Ponce went back inside he asked Fassett for money again and Fassett again told him no.
Ponce said “I can’t wait,” and shot him, Taylor said.
Fassett’s body was taken to Boise for autopsy.
“Either wound could have killed him,” Cassia County Coroner Craig Rinehart said.
The first bullet struck Fassett near his belly button, and lodged in his shoulder area, clipping his aorta, the major blood vessel that transports blood from the heart. The bullet hit multiple organs as it ripped through Fassett’s body, the coroner said.
“The second wound to his head caused immediate death,” Rinehart said.
Taylor said Ponce came to the sheriff’s office afterwards and told them during a three-hour interview that he shot Fassett. He led officers to the gun he used, which was at his home and to a garbage can in the city, where they recovered gloves Ponce was wearing when he committed the crimes.
Ponce told detectives he took off his right-hand glove when he shot Fassett because it did not fit in the gun’s trigger guard.
Taylor said the ammunition he used was silver or grey in color, where most is brass. The same type of ammunition was found at his home.
After Ponce killed Fassett he searched the shop for money, but did not find any, police said.
Cannon left Ponce’s bail at $2 million.
Ponce will be arraigned Feb. 6 in Cassia County District Court.
KIMBERLY — Twin Falls County Sheriff’s deputies are investigating several burglaries near town.
Six reports of theft were filed Friday, spokeswoman Lori Stewart said in a statement. The thefts occurred between 3 and 8 a.m., from 3500 East to 3700 East and from 3400 North to 4000 North.
In one case, a homeowner witnessed a man in a black ski mask get out of a burgundy or purple SUV and open the door of the homeowner’s truck. The homeowner yelled out and the suspect ran back to the SUV and left. The homeowner saw one other person in the SUV, Stewart said.
In each instance, the vehicle doors were unlocked, items inside were gone through or taken. The suspects also gained access to two garages, in one case after finding the remote garage door opener in the car. Several purses were taken along with various other items.
The sheriff’s office is asking anyone who has information about these crimes to contact the Southern Idaho Regional Communications Center at 208-735-1911, or for anonymous reporting, Crime Stoppers at 208-343-COPS (2677) or 800-222-TIPS. For residents who live in these areas, please check any security camera footage during these times Friday morning and report anything suspicious or unusual.
As always, the sheriff’s office recommends keeping car doors locked at all times. Remove any valuables from your car or keep them hidden out of view.