Severe flu season has killed 9 in Snohomish County

EVERETT — This year’s flu season in Snohomish County is the most deadly in five years, health officials say.

The nine people who have died so far from the influenza virus exceed the number of people who died during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.

For comparison, seven people died during the 2009-10 influenza season, and eight died in the 2012-13 season, according to the Snohomish Health District.

Statewide, 120 people have died from flu-related complications, compared to 79 last year, according to the state Department of Health.

“We do know the peak of flu season has occurred,” said Donn Moyer, a Department of Health spokesman. “Having crossed the peak doesn’t mean that the flu is gone and there won’t be more reported flu deaths. We’re watching.”

The 165 people hospitalized in Snohomish County because of flu-related health problems are more numerous than those hospitalized during the 2009-10 flu season, when 105 people were treated in hospitals.

Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, said he began getting reports in January from walk-in clinics and hospital emergency rooms that they were seeing a lot of patients with flu-like symptoms.

This flu season ranks as the most severe in at least five years, he said. Longer-term comparisons aren’t available because it wasn’t until the H1N1 season of 2009-10 that local, state and federal health officials began carefully tracking flu-related deaths.

The severity this year is caused in part to this season’s vaccine not being as effective as some in the past, Goldbaum said. The vaccine reduces a person’s chances of getting the most common strain of flu, H3N2, by 18 percent, according to the National Institutes of Health. Some seasons, effectiveness has been as high as 60 percent.

Although the match between circulating strains of influenza and what the vaccine protects against wasn’t good this year, the number of illnesses and deaths might also be caused by the severity of the virus, Goldbaum said.

“If you get it, it’s more likely to cause complications,” he said.

This year’s flu has been hitting older adults particularly hard.

In Snohomish County, eight of the nine deaths were among people 70 and older. They were a man from Everett in his 80s; a woman from Edmonds in her 90s; a woman from Snohomish in her 90s; a woman from Lynnwood in her 90s; a woman from Snohomish in her 70s; a woman from Lynnwood in her 80s; a woman from Snohomish in her 80s; a man from Lynnwood in his 70s; and a woman from Snohomish County in her 50s, whose hometown was not available.

Statewide, all but 20 of the 120 flu deaths were among adults 65 and older, according to the state Department of Health. Many already had health conditions that made them more susceptible to influenza, Moyer said.

Historically, influenza affects children and older adults the most, Goldbaum said.

Scientists are looking at the flu viruses now circulating in the Southern Hemisphere to determine how best to protect children and adults in the 2015-16 flu season.

“That prediction has to be made by April or May so they can get the vaccine into production and available in October,” Goldbaum said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486;

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