Flu death toll in Snohomish County rises to 26

EVERETT — The number of people in Snohomish County to die from flu has now risen to 26, far exceeding the typical toll for an entire influenza season.

“In my 10 years, this is absolutely the worst flu season,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer at the Snohomish Health District.

“The 26 deaths we’ve got has hit an incredible new record and the season hasn’t ended,” he said.

Snohomish County has had the second highest number of deaths from flu in the state, exceeded only by Pierce County where 27 people have died. King County has reported 22 flu deaths. Statewide, 114 people have died from the flu, according to the state Department of Health.

Influenza began circulating widely just before Christmas and it often continues to spread at high rates through the end of February.

Careful counts on the number of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths began during the 2009-2010 flu season, the year of the H1N1 outbreak. The previous record number of local deaths from flu — 16 — occurred during the 2014-2015 flu season.

The eight most recent deaths included five people from Everett, two men in their late 60s; a woman in her late 40s; a man in his late 70s; and a man in his late 80s; as well as a woman in her late 80s from Lake Stevens; a woman in her late-80s from Lynnwood; and a man in his late 50s from Arlington.

All had health conditions that made them more susceptible to the flu.

The death of the Everett woman in her late 40s is the youngest death recorded in Snohomish County this flu season. Most of the deaths this year have been among those in their 70s and up.

It’s too soon to know why this year’s flu has been unusually deadly, particularly for older adults, Goldbaum said. There may be several contributing factors.

Flu began circulating a little earlier than usual, and typically about a third of seniors don’t get vaccinated, he said.

It’s still unknown whether the unavailability of flu mist kept some people, particularly children, from being vaccinated, he said. Once infected, children can easily spread the flu virus.

Flu mist, delivered by a squirt into the nostrils, is an alternative to the flu shot but it wasn’t available this flu season. Tests showed that the mist was ineffective in fighting off influenza viruses among children 2 to 17 years old during last year’s flu season. Federal health officials announced in June that the nasal spray flu vaccine should not be used to battle flu this year.

Local hospital emergency rooms and medical clinics are being hit hard during the continuing flu epidemic with high numbers of patients, Goldbaum said.

“The hospitals are at capacity,” Goldbaum said. Many emergency rooms have to put people in hallways waiting for beds become available.

On Monday, Providence Regional Medical Center Everett’s emergency room treated 310 people.

“Please, before you jump into your car or dial 911, if you can, contact your own health care provider,” Goldbaum said. “It may be you can manage at home.”

In a five-day period ending Wednesday, 37 people were admitted to Providence for treatment of influenza-related illnesses. Since mid-December 251 people have been hospitalized there for influenza. Countywide, 319 people have been hospitalized for flu-related illnesses.

The Snohomish Health District’s website has advice on when to seek medical attention for the flu. The yearly reminders to help slow the spread of flu — frequent hand washing, covering your cough and staying home when ill — are especially important this year, Goldbaum said. Children and adults can still get the flu vaccine to help protect them against the illness.

The Everett Clinic is part of a statewide monitoring network on the flu. Last week 784 people were tested for flu, the most this season, and 374 tested positive.

More of the clinic’s employees have become sickened with flu this year than in previous years despite being vaccinated, said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who tracks influenza issues for the group of local medical clinics.

“Have we seen the peak of influenza — the answer is no,” Tu said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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