The flu has returned with a vengeance in Snohomish County

“Essentially, we are having two flu seasons in one winter,” says an Everett Clinic doctor.

An H3N2 influenza virus. (AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Michael Shaw, Doug Jordan)

An H3N2 influenza virus. (AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Michael Shaw, Doug Jordan)

EVERETT — The flu is back — big time.

A week ago, there were record numbers of people testing positive for influenza in Snohomish County.

It had been a relatively mild year until recently.

At the beginning of the flu season, the predominant virus was Influenza A H1N1. These days it’s predominantly Influenza A H3N2, which can be more life-threatening for seniors and people with chronic health conditions.

“We have never seen this many positive tests in a single week,” said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who monitors influenza issues for The Everett Clinic.

“Essentially we are having two flu seasons in one winter.”

There were around 800 positive tests for the flu in the week leading into March 17 at the Everett Clinic. Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and its emergency room also have been near capacity, Tu said.

And the worst might not be over.

“I don’t think we have hit the peak,” Tu said. “Our numbers are still going uphill. Once it peaks out, does it drop off quickly? There is no way to predict.”

Through March 9, there had been 93 lab-confirmed influenza deaths across Washington, according to the state Department of Health. As of Thursday, 15 were from Snohomish County.

A year ago, the season was marked by how long it lasted.

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

Historically, February has been the peak month for the flu. This year, it will be later.

Through March 9, there were 14 schools across the county where absenteeism had exceeded 10 percent from influenza-like illnesses.

Heather Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Snohomish Health District, expects that number to increase in schools, as well as hospitals and long-term care centers.

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.

Not everyone with the flu will have a fever.

Although the 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. The health district said caution also should be taken with children and pregnant women.

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.

Health officials say it is still worth getting a flu shot for those who have not received an immunization this year.

To learn more about the flu, go to: snohd.org/154/The-Flu.

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

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