Flu shots were being offered at Safeway in Everett on Oct. 10. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

Flu shots were being offered at Safeway in Everett on Oct. 10. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

Flu season arrives early in Snohomish County; 3 hospitalized

It’s early this year, but it’s not too late to protect yourself.

EVERETT — The buzzkill of the season has arrived, earlier than usual.

Influenza is here.

In Snohomish County, three people have been hospitalized for the flu and one school has reported an absence rate of over 10 percent due to influenza-like illness.

A long-term care facility has also reported flu-like cases in more than 10 percent of residents, said Heather Thomas, spokesperson for the Snohomish Health District.

Last flu season, 26 deaths were reported and 362 people were hospitalized in Snohomish County. There has been one lab-confirmed influenza death to date in Washington.

“Don’t wait. Go get vaccinated now,” said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who monitors influenza for The Everett Clinic, one of the state’s influenza monitoring sites.

“This is the earliest onset of the flu season since 2009. The number of positive tests has been rising for the past three weeks in a row.”

There were 61 positive flu tests in The Everett Clinic system in a seven-day period ending Dec. 1. The previous week had 41 positive tests, with 31 the week before. The clinic’s reach includes part of King County.

It takes 10 to 14 days after receiving a flu shot before immunity develops.

The flu season typically peaks between January and March, but the timing and severity can vary from year to year.

“Flu season is totally unpredictable from season to season and in severity,” Tu said.

Thomas and Tu both said pharmacies have plenty of doses available.

This is National Influenza Vaccination Week, as a reminder to get vaccinated.

As an incentive, some grocery stores toss in a 10 percent-off coupon on your next shopping trip. The vaccine is covered at no cost through most insurance plans.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine. Those under 5 and seniors are at the highest risk for developing complications from the flu.

Statewide, there were 241 deaths in the 2018-19 season. Of these, 167 were people 65 or older.

Health officials say the vaccination is the best way to prevent the illness or make it less severe. It also helps reduce the spread of the flu and protects those more vulnerable to serious complications, including young children, pregnant women, older adults and people with chronic health problems.

Along with the annual vaccine, people can avoid spreading the flu by common-sense tactics.

“Cover your cough. Wash your hands. Stay home if you’re sick,” Thomas said. “If you’re not feeling well, it’s best to avoid preparing food.”

Flu symptoms typically start suddenly and include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, fatigue and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.

Unlike the common cold and other respiratory illnesses, the flu tends to strike abruptly with a higher fever and more severe symptoms. Residual cough and fatigue can last for weeks.

More information: www.snohd.org/flu.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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