By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
A suspected flu death in Snohomish County has been confirmed, bringing the total to six who have died in the worst flu season since 2009.
The most recent death was of an Everett man in his 90s, who died on Jan. 24, according to the Snohomish Health District.
The previous deaths were of an Everett woman in her 70s, a Stanwood man in his 90s, a Bothell woman in her 40s and two women in their 80s, one from Everett and one from Edmonds.
For comparison, three people died of influenza during the previous two flu seasons combined, said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.
The number of people hospitalized with flu or its complications this season — 84 — also far exceeds the numbers from the past two flu seasons.
“This has been a particularly brutal, severe year for influenza deaths and hospitalizations,” said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who tracks flu issues at The Everett Clinic.
Statewide, 28 people have died from the flu, according to the state Department of Health. That’s the largest number since the swine flu epidemic of 2009-10 when 98 people died in Washington.
“What we’ve seen is an influenza that spread pretty widely, specifically for the older residents of the county, the state and nationally,” Goldbaum said. “It certainly is more severe.”
Flu this season, both locally and nationally, has caused the most serious illness in people 55 and up.
It’s not just the initial onset of influenza that can cause people to become so ill that they need to be hospitalized, Tu said.
Some people have several days of classic flu symptoms of high fever, sore throat, sniffles and body aches and seem to get better, but then get sick again two to four weeks later. “All of a sudden you develop a ‘late’ fever,” Tu said, indications of health problems such as more severe asthma or a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia.
The influenza virus damages the linings of the respiratory system in a way that makes it far easier for these health problems to occur, Tu said.
Although flu has hit older adults far harder than children, seven schools in Snohomish County have reported high absenteeism rates from students with flu-like symptoms.
Flu outbreaks also have been reported at 11 long-term facilities such as nursing homes and assisting living facilities.
The good news is that flu season seems to have peaked about two weeks ago, based on reports from area clinics and the number of patients being hospitalized.
“I would hazard a guess that we’re in the last month of flu season,” Tu said.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.