EVERETT — Every year, health officials urge people to get flu shots, especially infants, children and those 65 and older.
The reason is simple. These groups are most at-risk to get influenza-related health problems, such as pneumonia.
But that “sandwich” group in between those ages needs one too, even though some assume being relatively young and healthy means they don’t need the shot.
“The group we have the hardest time with are people 18 and up and under 64,” said Dr. John Dunn, medical director for preventive care at Kaiser Permanente Washington. Either they feel like they never get the flu or even if they do they’re unlikely to have complications, he said.
Their risk of getting pneumonia or being hospitalized isn’t as high as it is for infants and adults older than 65. But certain strains of influenza can hit young healthy adults hard, he said.
“It’s always interesting to me how much convincing it takes” to get people in this age group vaccinated, Dunn said.
In 2011, two 31-year-old twins from Camano Island were hospitalized and one later died of flu complications.
Flu shots are available at area pharmacies and medical clinics. They are recommended for everyone 6 months and older.
It takes several weeks for the shot to provide the best protection against influenza. The Snohomish Health District is urging people to get vaccinated during October.
“You want to have it kick in before flu really hits,” said spokeswoman Kari Bray. “Being ready beforehand is a good idea.”
A lot of people misunderstand what flu is, sometimes mistaking cold symptoms for flu. Influenza symptoms — including cough, fever, sore throat and body aches — are far more severe and last longer, Dunn said.
Although the influenza season just ending in Australia has been called one of the deadliest ever, that’s not necessarily a predictor of what’s headed our way, said Yuan-Po Tu, medical director for flu services at The Everett Clinic.
“The only thing predictable about flu is that it’s not predictable,” he said.
Last year’s flu season in Snohomish County was the longest flu season on record.
In addition, it was almost as if there were two flu seasons wrapped into one. One strain of A flu virus peaked in January. A second type of A flu virus — known as H3N2 — triggered another wave of illness that peaked in April. Unfortunately, there was no protection against this strain of flu in last year’s flu shot.
Overall there were 26 influenza-related deaths in Snohomish County during the 2018-19 flu season. Although most of these deaths were among people in their 60s, there was one pediatric death — an elementary school-aged boy.
Some 362 people were hospitalized in Snohomish County for flu-related illnesses.
Even though flu hasn’t begun widely circulating yet, a 4-year-old California boy died from influenza in September.
Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials say that the impact of influenza on infants is probably much higher than previously thought, Tu said.
One study by what was then called Group Health showed hospitalizations for influenza-infected infants occurred at the same rates as infected seniors, he said.
“Vaccination is the best way to protect the loved ones that you have,” Tu said.
Preschool and school-aged children are the most likely to be sickened — and spread — influenza. “If Grandma and Grandpa are taking care of kids, they end up getting infected,” he said.
The influenza shot not only helps protect children against the virus, it protects those around them as well, Tu said.
Although the flu shot is more effective some years than others, it’s still the best preventative step people can take, Dunn said.
“Even if it’s only 50 percent effective, that 50 percent cuts down on the number of people who can spread it around,” he said.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flu symptoms come on rapidly and include:
• Body aches
• Fever of 100 degrees or more for 3-4 days
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Sore throat
• Vomiting or diarrhea (more common in kids than adults)
Flu can cause more severe medical problems such as pneumonia, which can result in hospitalizations and in rare cases, deaths.
More information at: www.snohd.org/154/The-Flu