‘It’s not over’: This flu season less lethal but still lingers

Through the end of March, 252 people died across the state, including 36 from Snohomish County.

EVERETT — It just seems to linger — a nauseous slog, debilitating and often deadly.

The flu varies from year to year and this round is marked by longevity.

“This is a very long season and we are nowhere near the end,” said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who monitors influenza issues for The Everett Clinic.

Through the end of March, 252 people died across the state during the 2017-2018 flu season. That includes 36 from Snohomish County.

A year ago, there was a dramatic influenza spike that flooded hospitals and emergency rooms, but the worst came and went over about 12 weeks.

This year, fewer people have died, but the season has lasted longer.

“We didn’t get the intense spike,” Tu said. “But there are still a lot of people in the hospital now with complications of influenza.”

“While the total number of hospitalizations may end (up) being similar to last season’s, which was quite a strain on the health care system, the long duration of this season spread out the cases but (put) less stress on the system,” said Dr. Mark Beatty, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “… but the season is not over.”

The number of flu deaths statewide is likely to be fewer than a year ago, but the gap is narrowing. A year ago, 278 people died, including 45 people from Snohomish County. The mean age was 78.

Even so, local health care workers believe the number of cases has begun to drop.

The region has been hit by two waves of the flu — the first predominated by Influenza A; the second by Influenza B.

The total number of reported influenza hospitalizations in Snohomish County through March 24 stood at 441 patients. Ages ranged from 18 to 97 with a median age of 73.

It is hard to get a firm figure on influenza-associated deaths and hospital stays. State and national health organizations only count laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated deaths.

“We know we are under counting people,” said Vivian Hawkins, influenza coordinator for the state Department of Health. “Unfortunately we know there are some that are not officially reported to us.”

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. People should be fever-free for at least 24 hours before returning to school or work.

However, not everyone with the flu will have a fever.

Although the body aches and fever caused by the flu can make someone miserable, it generally can be treated at home by drinking fluids and taking over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Tu said those over 65 and people with chronic conditions such as asthma should continue to be vigilant and consult a doctor if they develop respiratory issues. People with flu symptoms who are seen in a medical clinic within two days of the onset of symptoms may be prescribed Tamiflu, which can shorten the duration of the virus.

Statewide in 2016-2017 about 57 percent of children and 46 percent of adults got a flu shot.

“We are still telling people to get vaccinated because of the amount of Influenza B out there,” Tu said.

The doctor has encouraged many patients to consider vaccinations over the years.

“I have seen plenty of people die from the flu,” he said. “I have never seen anyone die from a flu shot.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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