Wash your hands, cover your cough, stay home if you're sick and get a flu shot.
"That should be the mantra in every community right now," said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer with the Snohomish Health District. "You won't die from a flu shot, but there is potential that you could die from the flu."
The state Department of Health reported Thursday that three deaths are linked to the flu strain circulating in Western Washington.
The flu-related deaths of a Pierce County child and two King County seniors this month were reported just as the flu season was picking up in greater numbers in the state and across the nation.
In Snohomish County, 23 people are hospitalized because of the flu, Goldbaum said. That's more people than were hospitalized in each of the past two flu seasons, he said.
The number of patients coming into area clinics with flu symptoms such as severe body aches, fatigue, high fever and a sore throat began to increase earlier this month.
"The Centers for Disease Control are reporting that flu is widespread in every state," Goldbaum said. "It's aggressive, early and severe."
Influenza can be especially deadly for young children and can trigger bacterial pneumonia, a leading cause of death in older adults.
However, even healthy people can get very sick with the flu.
"It's very debilitating," Goldbaum said. "Every person over the age of 6 months needs to be vaccinated. It's not a time to hesitate."
Flu is transmitted primarily by young people, and they need to be especially protected. People need to think of others, not just about their own health, Goldbaum said.
It takes about 10 days to two weeks after being vaccinated to be fully protected, but the effectiveness of the vaccine is variable.
"Some people will respond quickly," he said. "There are benefits from day one and each day the protection builds. I strongly urge everybody to be vaccinated."
Children younger than age 9 may need two doses of flu vaccine about four weeks apart for protection. This year's vaccine is well-matched to the strains that are spreading, state officials said.
People at high risk for complications from the flu include young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and those who recently gave birth, as well as people with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and neurologic conditions.
"These (recent) deaths are a somber reminder that flu is serious and makes thousands sick in our state each year," said Mary Selecky, state secretary of health. "Any death from a preventable illness is upsetting, and it's especially heartbreaking when a child dies."
Many flu-related deaths may go unreported because they're not lab-confirmed or tested for influenza, state officials said. In the United States during the past 30-year period, the flu has been linked to thousands of deaths each year.
Flu viruses spread when people with the flu spew droplets from their mouths or noses while coughing, sneezing or talking. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. People also can get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouths, eyes or noses.
People can spread flu before they know they're sick and up to seven days after they get sick. Children can spread it for even longer.
Again, the best way to avoid getting the flu or spreading it around is to get a yearly flu shot, wash your hands frequently, cover your cough and stay home if you're sick.
If you're already sick, antiviral medications can lessen symptoms and help prevent serious complications. They work best when started quickly. People should ask their health care provider about their best option. It's also important to stay away from others for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
Information about where to find immunizations is available through health care providers, local health agencies, the Family Health Hotline at 800-322-2588, and the online flu vaccine finder.
Also go to Flu News on the state Department of Health's www.doh.wa.gov for more information or the Snohomish Health District site at www.snohd.org.
The cost for an adult flu shot at the Snohomish Health District is $30. A flu shot for a child costs $15. The Health District accepts payment by cash, check, VISA, MasterCard, ProviderOne and Medicare for clients whose primary insurance is not with an HMO. Clients may apply for a reduced fee, based on income and household size.
Snohomish Health District clinic hours: Everett Immunization Clinic, 3020 Rucker Ave, Suite 108, Everett, WA 98201. Call 425-339-5220 for an appointment between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays except holidays. Lynnwood Immunization Clinic, 6101 200th Ave SW, Lynnwood, WA 98036. Call 425-775-3522 for an appointment between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays except holidays.
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